Merced health officials: Stay cautious of flu amid coronavirus concern

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Merced County Public Health Director Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp is not surprised by the attention the coronavirus has received, but she says it's important not to lose sight of how serious this flu season continues to be.

"The death rate from coronavirus actually is far less than people dying from the flu," Nanyonjo-Kemp said. "There are far fewer cases globally of coronavirus than there are of the flu. I think the novelty of this corona "novel" virus is what makes it so scary."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates so far this season there have been at least 29 million flu illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths. That's compared to about 81,000 cases of coronavirus and just over 2,700 deaths, primarily in China.

The U.S. saw mostly Influenza B cases in the fall, but Dr. Nanyonjo-Kemp says Type A H1N1 has come on strong since January.

"The benefit is that it is included in the flu shot and so for those who have not received a flu shot, highly encourage them to receive a flu shot," Nanyonjo-Kemp said,

At the new Golden Valley Health Centers Merced Northview clinic, Dr. Ramaa is also urging patients to get a flu shot. She says the symptoms this season have been more severe for some people, but the vaccine can help reduce the chances of getting sick a second time, or at least minimize the impact of the illness.

"It's just giving your body a strong immune system, so even if you come across someone who has the flu, you probably won't have a very severe outcome," Dr. Ramaa said.

She also believes anyone with a cough should wear a mask in public, and it's an option for those who are healthy as well.

"If you are worried about getting the flu, you can do the same things: wash your hands, wear a mask," Dr. Ramaa said. "You're not sick, but you're trying to protect yourself."

The CDC says overall, flu-related hospitalization rates are similar to this time during recent seasons, but rates among children and young adults are higher.

That's another reason why experts are urging everyone six months and older to receive a vaccine, which can be done at your primary care physician, many pharmacies, or your local health department.
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