As hardly a day goes by without the coronavirus dominating the headlines, many people are rightfully concerned and wondering what steps they should take to protect themselves and their loved ones.

Although taking precautions is important, Dr. Jonathan T. Truong, an infectious disease physician with Kaiser Permanente Southern California, notes it’s important not to overreact.

“The coronavirus should be a cause of concern, but not alarm or panic,” he explained. “The quarantine process of people who are being evacuated from China has been effective in controlling the spreading of the disease in America. As such, we need to keep things in perspective.”

For example, Dr. Truong noted there have been no deaths in the United States so far resulting from the coronavirus (and no cases have been reported in San Bernardino County). In contrast, he said between 200,000 and 400,000 Americans get hospitalized due to complications form the flu each year, and as many as 60,000 die from it.

“We know that influenza is infectious and it kills, and we have a vaccine for it -- let’s focus on that!” he said. “It’s important to be aware of coronavirus, but we have an opportunity to help prevent 50,000 to 60,000 deaths a year with a flu shot. Despite that, only about half of the U.S. population gets vaccinated.”

When it comes to catching the coronavirus, the chances are slim unless one has recently returned from China, has been in close contact with a person who’s returned from China and is infected by the disease, or if you’re someone who’s taking care of a coronavirus patient without wearing protective gear.

Simple precautions such as washing your hands frequently with soap or alcohol-based gel, not touching your eyes, mouth or face, cooking your food thoroughly, and keeping a distance of at least six feet from anyone who has a respiratory illness will help protect your health, Dr. Truong said.

He noted coronavirus symptoms include coughing, fever, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. If someone exhibits those symptoms, Dr. Truong advised seeking medical attention. “If you’re sick, wear a mask so you don’t spread it,” he noted. “If you need to see a doctor, it’s best to call ahead. We want to be prepared to prioritize your case, and avoid spreading infection to other patients.”

As for buying a common mask for additional protection against coronavirus, Dr. Truong said that is not advisable unless it is an N-95 mask that also must be fitted for maximum protection. Those masks are primarily used by health care professionals, and there’s a shortage of them currently due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

“The bottom line is we need to take a step back and not overreact,” Dr. Truong noted. “Yes, we should be concerned about the spreading of the coronavirus. However, so far, this disease has had minimal impact on our population. Preventing the flu is a much more urgent matter, and I encourage everyone to get vaccinated.”

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