News of the coronavirus, a common respiratory infection, has been spreading around the country like, well, a virus since the outbreak was first spotted in China over a month ago. The illness—which can bring on a fever, dry cough and mild breathing problems—has affected thousands in Asia and was just this week declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.
But what’s spreading around America with alarming speed and rates of infection, however, isn’t the coronavirus—it’s the flu, an illness that has killed more than 10,000 Americans this winter, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The average American has no need to panic or worry about contracting the coronavirus, especially if you’re not planning travel to Asia any time soon,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, MD, allergist and infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health told us. “The thing we should be worried about is the flu virus, but that can be prevented by the vaccine.”
Dr. Parikh says that our anxiety over the coronavirus is standard and that this happens every time there’s an outbreak of a disease that’s not common in the U.S., like the ebola epidemic of 2014. The few cases of the coronavirus that have been identified here are being treated and those people are currently in isolation so as not to spread the illness further. The much bigger threat—the flu—she says, is happening in own back yard, but there are ways to help prevent yourself from getting sick by either virus. The first step? Get your flu shot.
“Frequent hand washing and avoiding people you know who are showing symptoms of being sick are both very important to staying healthy,” she says.
Bottom line, it’s really unlikely that you’ll get the coronavirus, so do your best not to panic. And in the meantime, get a flu shot.