It should come as no surprise that some patients’ fears are misguided when it comes to disease. Health anxiety is very real for many patients, exacerbated by the age of the internet and the limitless access to information it provides. Despite primary care physicians’ repeated advice to avoid online diagnosis tools — like WedMD — and utilize the knowledge of medical professionals, patients continue to give in to their anxiety and let fear dictate their approach to their health. This dangerous trend is especially apparent with diseases trending in the media, like the Wuhan coronavirus. Patients are often misguided by the fear the media can purport and it is vital that every individual understands the facts behind the disease and the real threat it poses.
The media narrative surrounding the Wuhan coronavirus is petrifying — it’s no wonder why the news headlines have captured the focus of millions of Americans. In the last week, the number of confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases around the globe has nearly doubled from 24,000 cases to approximately 44,000 cases, including 13 confirmed cases in the United States. Minor symptoms include a fever, cough and shortness of breath, although more serious cases have led to severe health complications and even death. What many people don’t realize, though, is that we weather a much more dangerous illness every year that’s already sickened more than 13 million Americans this winter. The disease receives a fraction of the media attention that the Wuhan coronavirus has, but it’s because we’re familiar with it.
Influenza, despite its known presence in the US, is more dangerous than many tend to realize. This winter, 120,000 have already been hospitalized because of the illness, and flu season still isn’t over. On a particularly bad year, influenza can claim up to 61,000 American lives. This isn’t to say the Wuhan coronavirus isn’t dangerous and doesn't have the capacity to sicken millions of people — it does. But as countries continue to follow their own protocols to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, one must put the danger it poses in perspective and recognize that we already face a more dangerous disease on a day-to-day basis.
When it comes to influenza, Americans are typically unconcerned by the threat it poses. Less than half of all adults received a flu shot in 2017 and a mere 62 percent of children did as well. This can be attributed to Americans’ familiarity with influenza, as it makes headlines every flu season, as well as the near-universal access to flu shots throughout the U.S. Wuhan coronavirus, on the other hand, is new and lacks any sort of vaccine. Yes, the coronavirus certainly poses a threat, but if one is worried about their health and wants to defend their body against disease, the first step is to protect themselves from the flu. You can get a seasonal flu shot at most pharmacies and local clinics, and the CDC even provides a platform for you to find the nearest place where you can receive a vaccination. Knowing the facts — like contextualizing the threat of Wuhan coronavirus with the common flu — is the first step towards understanding the real threat it poses. From there, get vaccinated and protect yourself from influenza, which poses a much more real threat than the Wuhan coronavirus likely ever will.