Coronavirus? Health officials see far bigger risk in flu

Malheur County Health Department officials said the flu is still active locally. (The Enterprise/File)

ONTARIO – A new coronavirus continues to grab headlines across the globe but closer to home health officials say residents should be more worried about an old and annual nemesis: Influenza.

“I would say the average Malheur County resident is way, way more likely to get flu than the coronavirus,” said Angie Gerrard, a registered nurse at the Malheur County Health Department.

The current coronavirus outbreak is unfolding in China where more than 800 people have died and another 28,000 are infected. The malady also jumped from the Chinese mainland with cases reported in 24 other countries, including 12 infections in the United States.

The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency late last month.

Seasonal flu, though, is a far more active disease in the U.S.


Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that so far, this season there have been more than 21 million flu cases with more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths.

Gerrard said the health department doesn’t track flu cases in the county because flu cases are not required to be reported to the state or the CDC.

The Oregon Public Health Division reported 842 positive tests for Influenza A and Influenza B statewide the week ending Feb. 7.

According to the CDC, about 8% of the U.S. population becomes ill from flu each season.

The influenza virus typically infects the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs.

Locally, said Gerrard, flu is still active.

“We have been looking at general trends and we are definitely not on the downward slope yet. Based on the trend, it seems like there has been a higher level of activity this year from last year,” said Gerrard.

Flu can be dangerous, said Gerrard.

“In some populations, it can be quite serious, especially in younger children, people over 65 and pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune system,” said Gerrard.

The easiest way to avoid the flu, said Gerrard, is simple: Get a flu shot.

“That is the No. 1 prevention tip,” said Gerrard.

Gerrard also said it is important to wash hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Other suggestions to avoid the flu are:

• Cover cough and sneezes.

• Stay home when sick.

• Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.

• Keep surfaces that may have flu germs on them cleaned and disinfected.

The threat to the new coronavirus isn’t ignored, said Gerrard, but she said Oregon has a “very low” risk of seeing very many cases of the new malady.

“We are monitoring it,” said Gerrard.

Have a new tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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