Flu, and not coronavirus, is bigger threat locally right now, doctors say

WEYMOUTH — As the World Health Organization declares coronavirus a global health emergency, physicians say there’s still a bigger threat locally.

“Right now we are in the middle of the flu season, Flu B is circulating,” said Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Health.

It’s not to say that the coronavirus isn’t dangerous. It has infected more than 8,200 people across the world and killed more than 200 people in China and spread to 18 other countries including the U.S.

But the flu, which is still prevalent in the U.S. right now, is still the bigger fear.

The numbers here are far more staggering.

“There have been over 15 million people, there have been over 8,000 deaths, over 50 of them have been pediatric so even though this isn’t the most severe flu season, we are seeing a lot of that as opposed to coronavirus this novel virus where there has now been a 6th case identified but only one human to human case in the US – you’re talking kind of David versus Goliath here,” Ellerin said.

And that means if you have the standard flu-like symptoms, it’s most likely the flu, and not coronavirus.

“What we can do is common sense practices, cleaning your hands, staying away from sick people. If you have fever, don’t go to work, don’t go to school, cough into your elbow, you shouldn’t be going out with masks thinking that will provide benefit,” Ellerin said.

And protecting yourself from the flu, Ellerin said there's no need to stock up on face masks.

“We have to be very careful, we can’t be hoarding masks because number one that’s not something that’s going to be useful, we don’t have an epidemic in the US – the other point is that masks are really best for those who are sick with a respiratory illness if they go out in to the public,” Ellerin said.

“We also don’t want to use these valuable resources when they are needed in other places as well,” Ellerin said.

Ellerin said the best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands and stay away from people who are sick. Stay home if you’re sick yourself, especially with a fever, and it’s never too late to get a flu shot.

More information on the coronavirus can be found on the Massachusetts Department of Public Health website.