Keep Calm & Get Your Flu Shot

It needs to be said: pandemics are nothing new. In fact, we are living in an age of unprecedented health: in developed countries, we have all but eradicated the diseases that used to quite literally kill half the populations of continents in just a few years. But we aren’t perfect (looking at you, anti-vaxxers). We live in a globalized world, where billions of people travel and move around. Sometimes, they spread new cuisines, ideas and cultures. Other times, they spread germs. 

The coronavirus panic of this year seems almost apocalyptic. But it’s important to look at this new disease in perspective. Keep reading for a few facts about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and how we can stay calm in the face of an outbreak.

The flu is more likely to kill you than COVID-19

Not to freak you out, but there is a deadly virus lurking among us: the common flu, which kills 12,000 people every year. Even so, I’m guessing half of the people reading this didn’t get their flu shot. This says something interesting about the current COVID-19 panic sweeping the nation: it seems scarier because it is a foreign disease slowly spreading around the world without a cure. The coronavirus makes eye-catching news and the flu doesn’t. We should be cautious of both.

Gain some historical perspective

If COVID-19 seems scary, try reading up on the medieval Black Plague, which came pretty close to wiping out Europe. An estimated one to two-thirds of the entire population died in five years--that’s like if more than 150 million Americans dropped dead by 2025. People living during that time literally believed it was the apocalypse--and it’s hard to blame them. That epidemic is still one of the worst in human history.

The Black Death was so bad that it undermined faith in the all-powerful Catholic Church, paving the way for the Protestant Reformation a few centuries later. It changed the course of European history so drastically that our modern world wouldn’t look the same without it. The plague came back in waves for the next few centuries, making deadly appearances around the world. Today, the disease that caused the Black Plague is treated with a simple course of antibiotics. The COVID-19 virus couldn’t hold a candle to the absolute destruction caused by the Black Plague in its prime. Also, we have a leg up on medieval Europeans because we (hopefully) bathe more than twice a year, actually wash our hands and don’t dump our waste into shared water sources.

Doctors say COVID-19 is mild in 80% of cases

For most patients of the disease, flu-like symptoms take over for a week or so until treatments kick in and the virus is killed off. However, for around 20% of cases, the virus enters the lungs and causes infections there, often leading to pneumonia. The result is inflammation and fluid in the lungs, causing a lack of oxygen for the rest of the body. 

So basically, people with weaker immune systems or lungs--often older people, smokers, diabetics, or people with chronic lung diseases or heart problems--are the ones who face more serious consequences with COVID-19. Similar risk factors are associated with the flu as well, so take that into account before you panic. 

More infectious does not mean more deadly

The COVID-19 outbreak is receiving such widespread coverage because it is so highly contagious. While that sounds pretty scary, it’s important to remember that common diseases like colds, the flu, or stomach bugs, are easily transmissible as well. The statistics break down like this: an estimated 3% percent of patients infected with COVID-19 will die from the disease, taking into account unreported cases in China, where the epicenter of the disease is. While higher than the death rate of the yearly flu in the United States (0.1%), COVID-19 is looking far less deadly than the 2003 SARS outbreak. 

Here’s the bottom line: while we shouldn’t ignore the threat, we should simply take the same precautions we do when avoiding the flu: wash your hands, cough into your elbow, carry hand sanitizer when out in public, and perhaps wear a mask when in crowded, enclosed spaces like airplanes. Stress and panic weaken immune defenses, so try not to constantly stress about contracting the disease. Pay attention to resources like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and listen to precautions from airlines and government agencies. Make sure to read up on UF health alerts as well, as they contain important information about travel to China and the public health precautions the university is taking.