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Confused About the Symptoms of the Flu or the New Coronavirus? Read Here

Is It the Flu or the New Coronavirus?

With different respiratory viruses causing similar symptoms, it can be hard to tell whether you have a cold, the flu or something much rarer but more serious, like the Novel Coronavirus. The symptoms of the flu – cough, shortness of breath, andfever – are also the symptoms of the new coronavirus. But unless you’ve recently traveled to Wuhan or any other place in the Hubei Province of China, or have had close contact with someone infected most likely from there, the risk of contracting coronavirus in the U.S. is still incredibly low.

As this new strain of the coronavirus was originated in Wuhan, it was being called the “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus” but the World Health Organization (WHO) just changed to designation on 2/11/20 to COVID-19: “…we had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual, or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease.” A number of racist incidents around the globe, as well as dramatic impacts on economies, have occurred since the outbreak, related in part to indiscriminate use of the prior name.

This is an evolving situation, and recommendations from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) will be updated as more reliable information becomes available. But at this time, there is ONE confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Orange County per the Orange County Public Health Agency, who is hospitalized and whose close contacts are being monitored. As of 2/13/20, there are 15 cases of COVID-19 in the entire United States, according to the CDC; more than 99% of the cases are in China.

As of 2/13/20, there have been 1,370 worldwide deaths from COVID-19, including 1 in Japan, 1 in Hong Kong, and 1 in the Philippines. No deaths have yet occurred in the U.S. – whereas seasonal influenza has already killed between 12-30 THOUSAND Americans this season alone (with a flu death toll averaging about 36,000 each and every year).

The somewhat comforting truth is that you are basically infinitely more likely to be killed in a car crash or from skipping the flu shot and getting influenza, than you are from COVID-19.

What Is the Coronavirus?

The coronavirus is a respiratory virus that causes a fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The virus gets its name due to the virus being shaped like a small crown. While most versions of the coronavirus are harmless and pass through quickly, other forms can be deadly, including the serious MERS and SARs subtypes.

Coronavirus Symptoms

Primary symptoms of the 2019-nCoV include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Coughing
  • Fever

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. This often depends on the person’s general health and how strong their immune system is.

How Similar and Different Are the Coronavirus Symptoms Compared to Other Illnesses?

There are several similarities between the common cold, the flu, and the latest coronavirus. In addition to many of their symptoms overlapping (although runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes are more consistent with the common cold), they are also similar that most infected patients will have mild disease, with the most at risk for serious problems being those with other medical conditions.

The main differentiating feature at this time is travel to, or close contact with someone infected from an epidemic region.

More on The Flu: Types of Flu: Causes, Symptoms, & Prevention Tips

Why Is the Coronavirus So Dangerous?

While the science is advancing rapidly, there is currently no established treatment for COVID-19, nor vaccine for prevention. Antibiotics and anti-influenza medications do not treat the coronavirus.

Who Has the Highest Risk of Contracting the New Coronavirus?

The elderly, young children or anyone with a lowered or compromised immune system appear to be more susceptible to the disease. But the main risk factor still remains travel to Wuhan or nearby areas in China, which is much less likely with current travel advisories and airline bans. There are 28 countries where COVID-19 has been identified, but again, more than 99% of the cases are within the borders of China itself; more than half of those countries have 10 or fewer cases per country.

Preventing the Coronavirus

Understanding the novel coronavirus situation is the best way to protect yourself.

  • Keep track of outbreaks – Stay informed of reputable sources of information about the virus; OC Health and the CDC will be your best bet. Resist the temptation to focus on headline-grabbing media as opposed to medical sources, which can focus more on sensationalism than accuracy.
  • Limit travel to epidemic regions – Largely addressed by current airline and travel advisories, limit non-essential travel to China until further notice.

If you are an Orange County resident and want to learn more about your cold or flu-like symptoms that you may be dealing with currently, you can call one of our urgent care centers in OC for more information about what you should do.

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Peter L Kim, MD

Dr. Kim,  is the Medical Director of Family Care Centers, Former Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Hoag Hospital, and a recipient of the Physicians of Excellence award from the Orange County Medical Association. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine, and has been practicing in our community for over 20 years. He is an excellent, caring, and well­qualified physician who is dedicated to providing you with superior health care. A native of Los Angeles, he graduated from UCLA and received his medical training at the LAC­USC Medical Center. After completing his residency in Family Medicine, he accepted a sports medicine fellowship at San Jose Medical Center, an affiliate of Stanford University. He enjoys working with patients and families who are training or want to get back into an active lifestyle.

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