It’s all over the global newswires – Coronavirus. While this new illness has caused widespread concern, influenza and even the common cold present a higher risk to most Canadians.
Whether from colds, flus, or the latest Coronavirus, how can we reduce our risk of getting sick and keep ourselves and others safe?
What is a Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses (CoVs) are a large family of viruses. They cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.
CoVs get their name from their appearance: under a microscope, they look like they are wearing spiky crowns or coronas.
The CoV making the news right now is 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV). In China, there have been thousands of confirmed cases and more than 100 deaths.
As of the time that this post went live (3:00 pm on January 28, 2020), there were one confirmed case and one presumed case in Toronto, and one presumed case in BC.
Despite these reports, the BC Centre for Disease Control asserts that the risk of COVID-19 to British Columbians and Canadians in general is considered low.
Comparing COVID-19 and influenza
To put COVID-19 into perspective, consider the significant risk posed by the influenza virus.
The 2019-20 influenza season began on August 25, 2019; as of January 11, 2020 there were already 12,168 confirmed cases of influenza in Canada.
This year, more than 12,000 Canadians will be hospitalized due to the flu, and approximately 3,500 Canadians will die because of complications from influenza.
So while COVID-19 has proven dangerous, its impact is lower to the average Canadian than the seasonally-circulating influenza virus.
Are some people more at risk?
Anyone can contract the flu virus and many other viruses. However, they present a far greater risk to specific populations.
Viruses like influenza are most dangerous to children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions such as autoimmune diseases or heart disease.
Symptoms to watch for
Be aware of the symptoms that mark the onset of viral infections like influenza and the common cold, including:
- runny nose
- sore throat
- general feeling of being unwell
Prevent getting (and giving) viruses
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Take the following steps to help ensure a low risk of viral transmission:
- Get the flu vaccine – The flu vaccine is a recommended option for preventing influenza. New vaccines are created annually to protect against flu virus strains that are expected in upcoming influenza seasons. By vaccinating yourself each year, you can maximize your protection as new influenza strains emerge and as immunity wears off within a year.
- Practice good hand hygiene – Handwashing is a proven, low-tech way to prevent transmission of infections of all types. Scrub your hands with soap and water frequently and at key times when germ transmission tends to happen. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.
- Don’t touch your face – Avoid touching your mucus membranes (eyes, nose, and mouth) as they are easy routes for virus infection.
- Cover up – Cover your coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue. This will reduce the number of virus particles in the air, and your good cough etiquette will be appreciated by anyone else nearby.
- Keep surfaces clean – Regularly sanitize frequently touched items and surfaces in your home like countertops, doorknobs, and light switches.
- Stay away from people who are sick – Whenever possible, refrain from visiting or otherwise being around anyone who is experiencing cold or flu symptoms. If you are a caregiver to someone who is sick, lessen your risk of getting sick too by following the other preventative measures in this list.
- Stay home if you are sick – Be a good patient, coworker, friend, and neighbour. If you have any cold or flu symptoms, stay home until you are feeling better so that you don’t spread the virus to others.