Flu is bigger worry than coronavirus in Tampa Bay, expert explains

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A total of 106 people have died thus far from coronavirus in China and health officials are working to stop the spread of the virus in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the coronavirus is a new respiratory illness first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It’s referred to as “2019 noval coronavirus.”

The Associated Press reports, the number of confirmed cases in China rose to more than 4,500 as of Tuesday.

The CDC confirms five positive cases of coronavirus in the United States. Seventy-three test results in the country are still pending.

Cases have been confirmed in Washington, California, Arizona and New Jersey.

8 On Your Side took our questions about the virus and what to expect here in Tampa Bay to Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, the Medical Director for Infection Protection at Tampa General Hospital and associate professor at USF Health.

Dr. Lakshmi explained that there are many versions of the coronavirus. There are strains we experience yearly that humans can fight off, and coronaviruses that cause outbreaks, like SARS.

“Coronavirus have been around for a long time. We’re hearing more and more about it because of the newer coronaviruses that have been able to cause what we call an outbreak,” she explained.

This outbreak of the most recent coronavirus likely happened when the virus “jumped” from an animal, like a camel or bat that can carry coronavirus, to a human.

Dr. Lakshmi explained that the difference between 2019 noval coronavirus and SARS compared to the common coronaviruses is the fact the former have the ability to cause more severe disease.

Currently, those at the most risk are people who have traveled to areas experiencing a coronavirus outbreak.

The doctor also explained there is another sickness killing more people than coronavirus, something people in the United States should be more concerned about.

“One thing to point out is that although we hear so much about the noval coronavirus, we have a lot more deaths going on from flu season, like having a bad flu season. So definitely in terms of confusing the symptoms, it’s very much similar. It’s hard to predict one versus the other,” Dr. Laksmi said.

“The amount of people that are affected [is] definitely much more with the flu in the United States right now, so much bigger problem than the noval coronavirus is at this moment right now.”

Though Americans should be more cautious about the flu, the doctor said there is a risk.

She mentioned areas with dense populations when asked about this weekend’s Super Bowl in Miami.

“Any areas that have density of travel is going to be at risk. I would say where people congregate more is higher risk for transmission of any viral infections, flu especially. I would definitely say that travel and areas of congregation are the bigger risks.”

The virus is spread just like the flu, which it shares symptoms with.

The virus is most commonly spread from an infected person through the air by coughing or sneezing or close contact like shaking hands.

It is also spread by a person touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then that person touching their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.

The elderly with two or more chronic diseases or conditions are the most at risk.

While this is no vaccine or treatment for 2019 noval coronavirus, Dr. Lakshmi said the best way to keep yourself and your family safe is the same as the flu — prevention.

She advises to wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds at a time.

“Masks definitely, we recommend in patients who have weakened immune systems often to prevent caught infections. But a lot goes into it. The mask has to fit properly. And you have to do it with washing your hands,” Dr. Laksmi said.

“If you didn’t wash your hands and just wear a mask, that’s not going to be effective. So definitely the bigger, if there’s one thing that you can do, is wash your hands.”

8 On Your Side reached out to the Florida Department of Health, who confirmed it is working closely with the CDC to monitor the virus.

The department issued the following statement:

“The Florida Department of Health (Department) is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to closely monitor the current outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus and is actively working to ensure that the most up-to-date CDC guidance is quickly and accurately disseminated to local partners. Though no cases have been reported in Florida to date, the Department is coordinating closely with our local partners to investigate, confirm, contain and report any suspected cases, should they occur. For the best available information regarding 2019 novel coronavirus, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html

8 On Your Side reporter Christine McLarty reached out to Tampa International airport, which is staying in close contact with the CDC for the latest and is encouraging travelers to stay diligent about common cold practices.

TPA does not have any direct flights to China, so according to a spokeswoman, travelers will likely be screened at another international airport.

8 On Your Side has also reached out to the CDC directly, but we have not heard back.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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