OLEAN, NY — Influenza kills between 12, 000 and 60, 000 people in the United States every year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention From Oct. 1, 2019, through Feb. 1 2020, the CDC estimates that between 12, 000 and 30 ,0000 Americans have died from the flu.
Yet, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which started in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, has cast its shadow over influenza season this winter in terms of fear.
COVID-19 has spread to more than 20 countries, including the United States, which has reported 13 cases.
COVID-19 has symptoms that mirror those of influenza, according to a Jan. 28 release from the Cattaraugus County Health Department. The symptoms include headache, fever, cough, sore throat and a general ill feeling.
While there is no vaccine available for COVID-19 yet, the release from the county said those infected should get plenty of rest and avoid contact with others, and anyone with a recent travel history to China, specifically Wuhan, should call their health care provider before taking any further action.
“Most people will recover on their own after resting and drinking plenty of fluids. To relieve symptoms, people with the virus can take pain and fever medication, use a room humidifier or take hot showers to help ease a sore throat and cough. Anyone experiencing symptoms with a recent travel history to Wuhan or has had contact with someone from Wuhan (within 14 days) should first call their health care provider and await further instructions to avoid exposing others.”
While fear of COVID-19 has been running high worldwide, a few Greater Olean area health officials said the COVID-19 shouldn’t be a big concern for Americans.
Just like every other winter, influenza should be the main concern.
Dr. Marlene Wust-Smith, director of St. Bonaventure University’s Center for Student Wellness, participated in a briefing regarding COVID-19 with New York State Department of Public Health officials in January. Wust-Smith said people should use common sense. While the COVID-19’s timing is a concern, everyone typically experiences a cough and a runny nose during the winter, Wust-Smith said.
“The timing of this [coronavirus] is concerning, because it’s winter,” Wust-Smith said. “But if this were happening in the summer, when our general population doesn’t get as ill, I don’t think there would be as much concern. You hope people have common sense. China is a huge country. Just being in China is not a risk, being in that province, where this started, is what the CDC is concentrating on.”
Vic Vena, who owns Vic Vena Pharmacy in Olean, had similar advice, saying normal flu-season precautions should be used.
“People need to make sure they are washing their hands,” Vena said. “If you’re in the crowd, and people are coughing, get away. If you’re sick, don’t go anywhere. Don’t go to the basketball game. Sit in the back of the classroom away from others, or don’t attend.”
With flu season and COVID-19 at their peaks, Vena said that he has had a hard time finding disposable face masks to sell at his pharmacy, located at1322 W. State St.
And so he advised, “Wear a scarf. As a matter of fact, right now, those facemasks are impossible to get. I’ve tried all kinds of suppliers, and I can’t get them in. The coronavirus is so small, they (masks) really don’t do people any good anyway.”
To Wust-Smith, the COVID-19 outbreak is also a good lesson for Americans in terms of how to treat others, especially at St. Bonaventure University, where there are professors and students from China. Just because someone is from China doesn’t mean that person has the virus. there,” Wust-Smith said. “Everyone has a cough and some sniffles right now. It’s winter. We don’t want others to treat people like they are pariahs. If you encounter the fe)w Chinese students and professors, treat them kindly, and not be like ‘oh my gosh.’”
Dr. Xiao-Ning Zhang, professor of biology at St. Bonaventure, said while discrimination has not been an issue on campus and in the Greater Olean Area, it has been an issue in other states.
“I haven’t seen it here,” Zhang, who is from outside of Beijing, China, said. “At least it hasn’t been obvious. I have heard in the news that in California, Asian-looking students got assaulted. There was also news about Uber and Lyft drivers refusing to pick up anyone who had an Asian-sounding name. I understand why this started, because California is where some of the outbreaks are.”
Zhand continued, “The coronavirus can infect anybody, not just Chinese. This is something people should know.”
According to a Feb. 20 CNBC report, more than 75,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 in China, and more than 2, 236 people have died. Fifteen cases have been reported in the United States.
Vena said that the end to the outbreaks depends on how well world health organizations can contain it.
“It’ll be interesting to see,” Vena said. “I am really glad they got all over it as fast as they did. The government in China took it so seriously right off the bat. Is it any more dangerous than some of the flu bugs? That’s hard to say. It is another virus, just like influenza. These flu bugs that are out now, they’re tough stuff. If people haven’t been vaccinated yet, I’d strongly encourage it.”
While Americans should be more concerned about influenza, according to Wust-Smith and Vena, Zhang said the conditions in China should not be ignored.
Zhang heard of the conditions from her friends who have been working in Wuhan to help at various hospitals.
“They work in the research area,” Zhang said. “Since the city has been quarantined, people have been pretty much staying at home. Almost nobody goes to work besides the hospital staff and delivery people, because people need to eat. Most of the restaurants have been closed. Only certain restaurants are open to supply food. The city isn’t doing much. It’s very much an emergency there.”
Zhang said at the beginning, the hospitals were overwhelmed. According to Zhang, over 1,000 medical personnel have been infected.
“They had tens of thousands of people coming to the hospital,” Zhang said. “Doctors and nurses were working around the clock. At the end of January, two extra hospitals were built in Wuhan. I think each one has 1,000 beds, but that’s not enough.”
Dr. Jinjing Zhu, an assistant professor in St. Bonaventure University’s School of Business, returned to the university from Beijing on Jan. 20 after visiting her husband and son over winter break.
Zhu said while conditions in China concerned her at first, she believes they will improve as time goes on. She added she’s kept in close contact with her family in China and has encouraged them to limit their travel.
“The figures seem a little scary, but I think the government and the local communities in China have taken some measures to contain this trend. They stopped public transportation. They’ve warned people to stay at home. So that might help. But in the short term, there will be more cases.”