BISMARCK — While there are no cases of the coronavirus in North Dakota, there are thousands of confirmed cases of the flu this season, according to Levi Schlosser, influenza surveillance coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health.
The department reported 4,869 confirmed cases of the flu as of Jan. 25. This compares to 1,829 cases at the same time last year. The department considers flu widespread across the state, with all counties except Billings County reporting some confirmed flu activity.
"The trend is of Type B flu rather than the Type A," Schlosser said.
Symptoms for Type A and Type B flu are similar and include fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue and headache. Lab tests are required to confirm the existence of the flu and identify the type. The symptoms are also similar to coronavirus.
"Fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath," Schlosser said, describing symptoms of coronavirus. "For coronavirus, typically people with a history of travel to China. We are also looking at people who have had a history of close contact with someone with the coronavirus."
The Washington Post reported Thursday, Jan. 30, that the World Health Organization classified the coronavirus as a public health emergency. More than 8,000 cases have been reported in China, with 171 deaths. Six cases have been reported in the United States. Coronavirus is considered a novel virus, meaning it has not afflicted humans before. This means the human body has no immunity to the disease.
At this time, Schlosser said there is no one in North Dakota under surveillance by the Department of Health for the coronavirus.
"People in North Dakota are generally considered low risk," he said.
That is not the case with influenza this year.
The Department of Health Weekly Influenza Update for the week ending Jan. 25 indicated there had been five deaths attributed to influenza and 216 deaths attributed to pneumonia this season. In addition, the department reported seven flu outbreaks in long-term care facilities and two in schools.
Schlosser said the department would not identify the locations of the outbreaks but did say they were scattered across the state rather than in limited areas.
While the flu vaccine is the best way to avoid the disease, normal precautions like washing your hands, covering a cough or sneeze, staying home from work or school when sick and not touching the area around your eyes can all reduce the chance of getting the flu.
"We would recommend the same precautions for coronavirus," Schlosser said.
Schlosser said there is no human vaccine available for the coronavirus at this time. New vaccines can take months or years to perfect.
"I can't imagine anything available soon," said Robin Iszler, unit administrator at Central Valley Health District in Jamestown.
And at the state level, the Department of Health is asking people to avoid all nonessential travel to China and to watch for symptoms of respiratory illness for 14 days after returning.
People who develop symptoms should call their health care provider immediately and tell them they have been to China. Those people should avoid contact with others, not travel and follow the directions of their provider and public health officials.