Upstate Doctor says We’re More Likely to get the Flu than Coronavirus from China

Jan 28, 2020

The strain of Coronavirus that recently originated in China, referred to as "novel Coronavirus", is part of the MERS family of flu-like diseases. Countries around the world have taken additional travel precautions to protect their citizens from the disease, including the United States.
Credit U.S. National Institute of Health

The Chief of Infectious Diseases at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse says it’s not the Coronavirus from China that Central New Yorkers should be most concerned about this season.  Dr. Stephen Thomas says there’s a good reason to wash your hands and suggests those who feel ill to stay away from others.


"The seasonal flu right now is a much bigger concern right now than novel Coronavirus... it's the same processes we use for both."

He says they’re asking patients who come to the emergency room with respiratory illnesses if they’ve travelled out of the country recently.

The doctor says the Coronavirus comes from a family of 7 viruses — and four of them have similar symptoms to the common cold, causing 10-30% of colds.

"The transmit throughout the year but they predominate in the fall and winter, and they cause mild respiratory infections in people, so these are things we see every year. We test for these Coronaviruses in the routine panels we use for people who have respiratory infections."

Thomas says Influenza B has been the most active but, now they’re starting to see more cases of type A in the emergency room at Upstate University Hospital.  He says respiratory illnesses are spread by water droplets through a cough and are even more likely to infect others in confined spaces.  The CDC reports that more than 8,000 people have died from the flu this season.

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak which started in China in late December and has killed more than 100 in the county, Syracuse University has issued additional travel warnings for students who are travelling abroad. A University Travel Registry, proposed to be implemented later in 2020, has been expedited and put in to place now, requiring all students and faculty to register with the University before they leave the country on University business.

"This measure will add a greater layer of protection to our campus community while respecting the academic, scholarly and research mission of our university," said a statement from the Uniersity released Tuesday.

The University has also asked all students who have travelled to China in the last 14 days to confidentially contact the SU Director of Global Safety and Support.

The statement also references recent elevated travel warnings to China from the U.S. State Department, which is now a Level 3 warning as of Monday. The State Department reccomends that all americans "reconsider travel" to all of China, not just the Hubei region where the Coronavirus originated. A Level 4, or "Do Not Travel" warning is now in place for the Hubei region of China as well.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also stated Tuesday that blood samples from 10 New York residents suspected of having the Coronavirus have been sent to the CDC, and that there are currently no confirmed cases of the virus' presence in the state.

An estimated 4,500 people have been infected with Coronavirus worldwide, including at least 6 in the United States as of Tuesday.