Even a tiny bug has become political. 

On one side, some have downplayed COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019), the disease caused by the coronavirus. They say not to worry, it's no deadlier than the common flu. They have accused the media and government of overblowing the situation.

On the other side, there is concern. Enough so that hospitals, including Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, and Evangelical Community Hospital, Lewisburg, have been holding meetings to discuss scenarios and go over emergency plans in the event of an outbreak or the spread of any highly infectious disease.

As of Wednesday, the virus has infected 94,000 people and killed 3,200, mostly in China, where the virus first appeared in December. It has infected people on every continent except Antarctica. Italy saw a 50 percent increase in cases this week and clusters of the disease also surfaced in Iran, South Korea and Japan.

The U.S. has more than 120 cases in at least 15 states, with 11 deaths, 10 in Washington state and one in California, as of Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

In contrast, influenza, otherwise known as flu, infects about 29 million Americans each year and kills 25,000 people to 69,000 people here each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far this flu season, 16,000 Americans have died from flu, the CDC reported.

It appears the flu is far deadlier, at this point, but no one knows enough about COVID-19, which seems to be spreading more swiftly.

Bill Gates wrote on his Facebook page that, "Global health experts have been saying for years that another pandemic rivalling the speed and severity of the 1918 influenza epidemic wasn’t a matter of if but when." 

He continued, "COVID-19 has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about. I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume that it will be until we know otherwise."

He said COVID-19 is such a threat because it can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with health problems.

According to the World Health organization, about 3.4 percent of those infected with COVID-19 worldwide have died, while seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.

There currently is no vaccine and no specific treatment for COVID-19.

Gates wrote that the case fatality risk of the 1918 influenza pandemic was 2 percent.

There may be no great risk to the U.S. or to us here in the Central Susquehanna Valley. The flu may, in fact, continue to be the bigger threat.

We don't know.

As Gates suggests, we should be prepared for the next big pandemic, anyway. 

Even if it is just the flu that threatens, why not take the same precautions?

Dr. Mark Shelly, epidemiologist and director of infection control for Geisinger, said someone could have the flu and show symptoms similar to that of COVID-19 — which include fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath.

The bottom line is, pandemic or not, good hygiene can help prevent the spread of disease. Health care providers suggest that just like with the flu, good prevention includes good hand hygiene, keeping your hands away from your eyes and mouth, covering your mouth with tissue or the crook of your arm when coughing or sneezing, keeping your distance from people who are coughing and sneezing, and staying home if you're sick.

Look at the bright side. Staying home for a day or two can help you avoid those people who don't have sense enough to agree with your common sense political views.

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