Canadians should be concerned about influenza, not coronavirus, expert says
CALGARY -- While many people are focused on the threat of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, medical experts say seasonal influenza poses a much greater concern for those in North America.
Alberta Health Services says another patient who was admitted to hospital for treatment of influenza died this past week.
The patient, in the Central Zone, is the 20th person to die in the province this season because of the illness.
Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw says the province is prepared with a response in the instance coronavirus does appear here.
"I know that Albertans have been feeling anxious about the novel coronavirus," she said. "When people feel worried, it's important they get their information from reliable sources."
Hinshaw says there are no probable and no confirmed cases of the disease in Alberta.
"At this time, the risk to Albertans is still considered to be low, even though the World Health Organization has made this declaration (of a global health emergency)."
She says the WHO's new policy on the virus is a "significant step" in the fight against it, but resources in Alberta have been ready for weeks.
"Front-line health care staff have the information they need to monitor and respond to any potential cases," she said. "Both the Alberta government and AHS have are using existing emergency response processes to help coordinate communication and planning to ensure we are ready to respond if any travel-related cases do occur in Alberta.
"The risk remains low, but we are prepared."
International medical experts, who are keeping a close watch on the spread of the coronavirus in China, agree there is a very low risk to residents in Canada and the United States.
Influenza is the main concern for people living in North America, says Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in an interview with CTV News.
"We're in the middle of a flu season – that is what you should be worried about right now. If you're in China, that's different. If you may have contact with someone from China, that may be a little bit different."
Adalja says we should not be buying masks because doing so is having a "negative impact" on the problem.
"There may be a time when we need them or other countries that may need them and that's creating a supply shock that's really not warranted because there is no general risk to the public in Canada or the United States right now from this virus."
The World Health Organization declared the Wuhan novel coronavirus a global health emergency Thursday.
The disease has already killed 170 people and infected thousands of people around the world.
Canada has three confirmed or presumptive cases of the disease; two in Toronto and one in Vancouver.
The number of doses of the flu vaccine administered in Alberta so far this year (1,346,999) has already surpassed the total given out during the last flu season (1,305,470).
Health officials say the best defence against influenza is through immunization.
No additional measures are expected to be put in place, Hinshaw says, but health professionals in Alberta will be working with federal and provincial partners to determine when and if further steps are needed.
Anyone who feels they have symptoms of coronavirus are advised to call HealthLink at 811.