Flu virus more concerning than novel coronavirus in U.S., La Crosse health experts say

La Crosse medical centers prepare for all disease outbreaks

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Millions of people are on lockdown because of the growing concern over the coronavirus. However, local health experts say there is a common disease that is more dangerous in our own backyard.

Health officials around the world are trying to put a stop to a rapidly growing novel coronavirus.

“From a world standpoint, it’s concerning just due to how well the virus has been spreading,” said Megan Meller, infection preventionist at Gundersen Health System.

A coronavirus is actually more common than people think.

“A lot of different viruses cause colds and coronavirus is one of them,” Meller said.

There is a reason to be concerned, but Meller said it’s not something people in the La Crosse area need to panic over.

“The U.S. only has five confirmed cases,” Meller said. “There have been no documented human to human transmission from those five cases which is really reassuring.”

The world dealt with this issue before back in 2003.

“The more famous members of this would be SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome),” said Dr. John Ohoro, an infectious disease consultant with Mayo Clinic Health System.

Ohoro said the mortality rate of SARS was around 15 percent and 35 percent for MERS.

“This coronavirus, the reported mortality rate is only 3 percent,” Ohoro said. “It seems to be far less problematic than either of those to put that into perspective.”

The virus has killed at least more than 130 people as of Tuesday (numbers have been updated since 6 p.m. newscast as more reports come in), all of them in China. More than 5,300 others have been infected in more than a dozen countries.

However, Meller says the flu impacts the U.S. a lot more.

“The flu still causes a lot of deaths, a lot of illness and a lot of hospitalizations,” Meller said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that so far this season there have been at least 15 million flu illnesses, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths from flu in the United States.

Regardless, each hospital remains prepared with treatment protocol in case an outbreak happens here.

“Making sure we have the necessary personal protective equipment on hand,” Meller said. “Do we have enough of it? Are our staff educated? How do we develop these lines of communication.”

Health officials say people can prevent several viruses and illnesses by simply washing hands and covering their mouths. They say if a person feels sick it’s best to stay inside to avoid infecting others.  If symptoms don’t get better then medical attention is recommended.

Health experts say coronavirus numbers could continue to rise. More than 100 people in the U.S. were being tested for the disease across 26 states.