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Risk of influenza is greater than risk of coronavirus, says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health

Three people in Quebec are being tested for the Chinese coronavirus, the province's health and social services ministry confirmed the night of Monday, Jan. 27, 2020.
Three people in Quebec are being tested for the Chinese coronavirus, the province's health and social services ministry confirmed the night of Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. Photo by Arne Dedert / Picture alliance via Getty Images

Alberta health officials reiterated Tuesday that there are no probable or confirmed cases of coronavirus in the province, the same day that B.C. announced it had its first suspected case.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said it is not surprising to see cases in provinces like Ontario and B.C. where there is travel back and forth with China, but she said that the risk to Albertans remains low.

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“Will we see a case in Alberta? It’s possible we will see a travel-related case,” she said.

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“If that were the case, the precautions we’re taking and the advice that’s being provided to returning travelers to contact Health Link so we can make the arrangements for care and testing… would be exactly what we want to have happen in Alberta.”

READ MORE: What we know about how the new coronavirus is spread

Hinshaw said there are a few reasons why people may be so fearful about the coronavirus.

“This is a new virus. It’s jumped from an animal reservoir to humans… it’s really natural that people are feeling afraid about something that’s new,” she said.

However, it is more likely Albertans will contract the flu than the coronavirus.

READ MORE: Quebec’s health ministry investigating 3 potential new coronavirus cases

“We know that influenza is currently circulating out in the community so it would be very likely would be out, in public, being in contact with people who have influenza,” she said.

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“The risk is more about the presence of influenza and the fact that we don’t have any probable or confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Alberta.”

According to the latest data posted by Alberta Health Services, there have been 4,198 laboratory confirmed cases of influenza and 19 laboratory confirmed influenza deaths in the province, which has a population of 4.3 million.

READ MORE: New coronavirus death toll jumps to 106 as China announces 25 more fatalities

In comparison, Hubei province in China, where the outbreak is believed to have originated, has had roughly 100 deaths in a population of 50 million — a fatality rate that is half of Alberta’s flu fatality rate.

“Our influenza season is not yet over… I want to emphasize again that for Albertans, at the moment, the risk is greater for influenza,” she said.

The virus, currently known as 2019-nCoV, is a coronavirus, part of a family of viruses. Some coronaviruses cause the common cold, and others are responsible for SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), for example.

READ MORE: How the new coronavirus compares to SARS, MERS, Ebola and other diseases

To protect yourself, you should do the same kinds of things that you would do for any virus, according to the WHO: avoiding close contact with infected people, washing your hands frequently, and practicing good cough etiquette — meaning covering your mouth and coughing into your elbow, rather than toward other people.

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with files from Global News