CHICAGO — With all the fear and panic over COVID 19, some basic questions remain: how likely are you to get sick, should you be worried and how can you protect yourself?
Currently, there is no treatment for COVID 19 and there is no vaccine. But how does it compare to a major health problem we’re all familiar with, like the flu?
“People should not worry any more about this than the flu,” said Dr. Ernest Wang, Chief of Emergency Medicine at NorthShore University HealthSystem.
There’s a vaccine to fight the flu, but many Americans choose not to get it. They are nonchalant about a virus that kills on average 34,000 people in the U.S. every year, and infects 32-45 million people.
By contrast, so far in the U.S. 100 people have been diagnosed with COVID 19 and 9 people have died, all in Washington state.
“It’s very difficult initially to tell the difference between this and the flu, and they present very similarly, and that’s part of the problem is that we don’t know initially just based on symptoms what you may have. The flu is a much bigger health problem than coronavirus at this time,” Wang said.
What about the strength of COVID 19 versus the flu? According to the World Health Organization, it is slightly more deadly than the seasonal flu but does not spread as easily. Wang says most healthy people will survive an infection, many with only mild illness.
“The people most at risk for the flu and for coronavirus do fall into similar populations. If you are older if you have chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, if you smoke, if you have chronic respiratory conditions, so yes, those patients are generally more at risk,” Wang said.
Previously unknown, scientists have learned a great deal about COVID 19 and how it’s spread.
“The most concerning to citizens is human-to-human or community spread, where the patient develops the infection and has no known contact with anyone from China or an area where there was an outbreak. Hand washing is the number one way to protect yourself because you wash your hands and you kill the virus,” Wang said.
The common cold is a coronavirus. Other more virulent strains have caused mass hysteria before, including SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012. There was the swine flu epidemic in 2009 and ebola in 2014, and these infectious disease outbreaks were all resolved without wiping out entire populations.
“This virus I think is sneaky. People can have it and they don’t exhibit symptoms and they are carriers and people survive with the infection and they can pass it on to other people,” Wang said.
Already, infectious disease experts are testing a currently-prescribed antiviral medication called remdesivir against COVID 19.
It’s the first step towards reducing the power of the virus, and helping patients recover faster and with less-severe symptoms.