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As a new strain of coronavirus (covid-19) sweeps through the world, stay up-to-date on the latest preparedness plans, school closings, changed polling locations, and more in the Tri-State.

Health Official Says Flu Is Still A Bigger Deal Than Coronavirus

Mark Lennihan
A woman in New York, who declined to give her name, says she works for a pharmaceutical company and told the AP photographer, "I'd wear a mask if I were you."

A public health expert says concerns about coronavirus are valid, but people should take steps toward controlling the seasonal flu first. Dr. Odell Owens, president of Interact for Health, says data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prove influenza is the bigger deal.

"They've already estimated 15 million people have already experienced the illness, and 140,000 have already been hospitalized," he says. "There have been 8,200 deaths from the regular seasonal flu, and sadly there's been 54 pediatric deaths." 

"We'll get coronavirus under control, and we're headed there compared to where we were a few years ago when the SARS virus came," he adds. "We're much better prepared to handle this virus."

Earlier this week, two Miami University students were isolated and monitored for possible infection. Ohio's Health Department director attended a press conference in Oxford to discuss the situation.

Owens says seasonal influenza just doesn't get the same kind of attention. "Many of us don't know anyone who's died from the flu, because sometimes it's embedded in another disease," he says. "Certainly if an elderly person dies, you say 'grandmother died. She had pneumonia.' Well, pneumonia may have been caused by that virus."

Owen says flu can get "lost in the mix" when a person with other health problems dies. He says a new contagion will make the evening news because it's new.

"If we would just pay attention to the simple things that can help us, it can prevent the more complicated things," he says.

Those simple things include covering your mouth when sneezing and coughing, fist bumping instead of hand-shaking, and washing your hands frequently and thoroughly. "Hand-washing is so underrated in terms of really being a great preventive method," he says.