Is it the flu or is it coronavirus?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jose Diaz
  • 47th Medical Group

It is easy to feel vulnerable because of news about the coronavirus outbreak.  The name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19.  The symptoms of influenza (flu) and coronavirus infection are similar, but these two illnesses are caused by different viruses.  People with the flu may jump to the conclusion that they have been exposed to COVID-19.  However, it is important to keep things in perspective and avoid needless worry.    

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to pneumonia, and in most people the symptoms tend to be mild. You should not be alarmed if a routine test ordered by your health care provider is positive for coronavirus.  COVID-19 is a new virus that has not previously been seen in humans.  It should not be confused with other coronaviruses that have been around for many years.

So far, over 90,000 people worldwide have contracted COVID-19, this is a small number in comparison with the 32 million people that have contracted the flu this season in the U.S. alone.  However we have studied seasonal flu for decades, and despite the dangers of the flu, we know a lot about it and what to expect each season.  On the contrary, there is a lot more we have to learn about COVID-19.

Prevention is the key to heading off concerns.  The same precautions you take to avoid the flu will help prevent coronavirus infections.  The Centers for Disease Control recommends the following actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Finally, getting vaccinated against the flu will reduce your chances of contracting influenza, and that means less worry about symptoms. 

Even though the coronavirus outbreak continues to capture the world’s attention, the possibility of contracting this virus in the U.S. is remote.  However, if you have been in any of the affected areas (currently China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea) within the past two weeks and develop a fever or cough or have trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately, and remember to let medical personnel know of your travel history.

For additional information, visit or contact the Public Health Office at 298-6218.