The head of Carilion Clinic’s infectious diseases said Monday that people should be more concerned about getting the flu from their neighbors than catching a new coronavirus from China.
“We get a lot of questions from the community, and so our hope is to quell the hysteria,” said Dr. Anthony Baffoe-Bonnie, medical director of infection prevention and control. “The most important thing I’d like to say is: Get your flu shot.”
Since October, the start of the flu season, Carilion has treated about 2,170 patients with influenza, 551 of them during the week of Jan. 19. Three Carilion patients died from influenza.
Carilion’s numbers don’t include people who don’t see a doctor when they are feeling ill, or who have been treated by other health systems, urgent care centers or physician offices.
“There have been 2,000-plus cases of influenza in this area alone. And there have been about 2,000 cases of coronavirus worldwide. So play the odds. If you are likely going to catch something, it’s the flu,” he said.
There have been no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health on Sunday said it was testing three residents. On Monday, tests came back negative for the virus in the two people living in central Virginia. Results for the third person, who lives in Northern Virginia, aren’t expected until later this week.
Baffoe-Bonnie said the risks of contracting the new strain of coronavirus are very low in the U.S.
“I don’t see any need for hysteria. Having said that, it is important to be aware of who to consider could have it and put in appropriate public health interventions,” he said.
Concern should focus on anyone who has returned from China within the past 14 days and has symptoms or who has been around another person with the disease.
“Being from China does not mean anything,” he said. “Do they have a travel history within two weeks and have symptoms would be what one would want to consider.”
Virginia Tech on Monday said it may have students who fall within the 14-day window of travel.
About a half-dozen students told university officials that they had traveled to Hubei province over winter break, which ended last week, said Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski. Owczarski said he could not provide an exact figure because of federal privacy laws.
“We are in touch with those individuals, and they are in good health,” he said.
A notice from Tech encouraged students and staff with travel plans to Wuhan or affected areas to contact the global education office, and anyone with questions or concerns to contact the health center.
Staff writer Henri Gendreau contributed information to this report.