Headlines across the country scream warnings of bombast, cautioning the American public about COVID-19 (commonly called coronavirus or novel coronavirus), the virus Chinese and Asian health professionals are currently at war with. Huge numbers and frightening claims are thrown out:
“Possible 60 million dead if left unchecked.”
“Cruise ship stranded at sea over coronavirus fears.”
“Novel coronavirus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year.”
The virus has touched all corners of the globe, even American shores, with cases being reported in eight states, the most recent as of this writing, being Texas. But just like all things unknown, introducing facts and perspective can bring welcome relief.
“The flu … is a bigger threat than the coronavirus (COVID-19),” flatly states Lt. Col. Benita Harris. She should know; the Lieutenant Colonel is Chief of Army Public Health Nurse at Fort Hood’s Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center.
The only reason COVID-19 is in Texas is because Americans who were exposed to the virus in China were flown to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio to be held in quarantine and treated. It was not accidental exposure or person-to-person contact or even a sneeze.
Because how you catch COVID-19 and the common flu are similar, how you stay clear of both viruses is also the same.
“Really, the biggest thing we can do is washing hands. That is going to be first and foremost,” asserts Harris.
Capt. Edwardo Mendez-Landa, an Army Public Health Nurse at CRDAMC, agrees. “The hand washing piece is really the biggest thing that we advocate for, because it is how you introduce not just flu, but any disease,” he explains, “(Washing hands) the right way with soap, especially when they’re visibly soiled, and for 20-seconds at least, it will keep you safe.”
It doesn’t even have to be any kind of special soap. Just something that will build up a good lather with the friction of rubbing your hands together, because hands are the main way virus are spread. Something that can be mitigated by the use of disposable anti-viral or anti-bacterial wipes.
“When you go to the grocery store, (wipe) down those baskets … At work (wipe) down your work area,” Harris recommends. “Wiping down your home, things that you touch a lot: your doorknobs, computer keyboards, your cell phone. Those are going to be important because you can potentially pick up germs from those items.”
Sneezing or coughing into the bend of your elbow is another potential virus-killer. But the thing a person can do that will have the biggest overall impact on one’s immediate health, Harris likes to remind people, is something doctors have been tell patients for years: make sure your flu shot is up-to-date.
“The flu shot will help protect you against the flu; and say if you do get the flu,” she cautioned, “if you’ve had the flu shot, it can lessen the amount of time that you’re sick and reduce the symptoms that you have, so it’s very important to get the flu (shot).”
Flu shots are available from your local health care provider. Soap is available most everywhere.