Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The flu that you prepare for every winter kills about 100 South Carolinians every year, according to state health data.

To make sure you don’t get it, you do common-sense things: Get a flu shot, wash your hands more, cover your mouth or nose when you cough or sneeze, and stay at home when you’re sick.

While the outbreak of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 has about 100,000 cases worldwide and has started to infect some Americans, there are a handful of reported cases in South Carolina — an inevitability thanks to our increasingly interconnected world.

As the media go into hyperdrive over a potential medical crisis with huge political implications, it’s good to keep in mind that the same things you do to protect yourself and your family from flu are what you’re supposed to do to keep safe from coronavirus. Just like the flu, the elderly and people with health problems are the most vulnerable. Just like the flu, you can be proactive to minimize your risk.

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“The virus may be novel, but you really don’t need to buy anything new or special to brace for it,” The Washington Post reported this week after talking to epidemiological experts. You don’t, for example, have to rush to stores, stock up on disinfectants or horde medicine and food.

Don’t panic, experts caution. Keep calm. Wash your hands, often. (And do it the right way — with soap and water for 20 seconds like your mother may have taught you.)

In other words, use common sense. Yes, there’s a risk with this disease. But there is one every year with the flu, too.

Early Friday, the federal government’s HealthCare.gov sent the following email widely:

“You’ve likely heard about the Coronavirus (officially called “2019-Novel Coronavirus” or “COVID-19”) in the news. While the immediate health risk remains low to Americans and there isn’t a vaccine yet, there are still ways that you can help prevent the spread of this virus.

“To prevent the spread of this illness or other illnesses, including the flu:

Wash your hands often with soap and water,

Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze,

Stay home when you’re sick, and

See your doctor if you think you’re ill.”

Dr. Linda Bell, the state’s epidemiologist, testified similarly to the S.C. Senate Medical Affairs Committee on March 5 on dealing with this strain of coronavirus. As of this week, about 130 people in South Carolina had been or were being monitored for the illness, she said (no positive cases had been confirmed at that point).

“The Centers for Disease Control notes that while the potential threat to the public health in the U.S. and worldwide is high, an individual’s risk is dependent on exposure and remains low for most Americans,” she told state senators. “Those people with a greater risk of exposure are travelers from affected areas, health care workers and the close contacts of COVID-19 cases.”

She said ways to slow the illness on a group level included social distancing, which means limiting large group gatherings, closing buildings and cancelling certain events. Individuals can help, too.

“DHEC’s recommendations for prevention are:

to get the flu vaccine if you have not already done so during this flu season,

to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds,

to practice good respiratory hygiene, such as covering your cough and sneeze and disposing your tissues promptly that may be contaminated with respiratory droplets, (and)

to stay home from school and work and other places where people have close contact with each other if you are sick to avoid exposing others.”

Other measures, according to various reports:

Stop touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth. We do this much more than we realize (two dozen times an hour, according to one study). If you have a facial itch, cover your fingers with a tissue to scratch. To curb touching your face, keep your hands busy.

Clean surfaces and objects you frequently touch — doorknobs, refrigerator handles, remotes, phones, countertops, machines and appliances, steering wheels and the like.

Keep away from people who are sick.

More resources:

S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control summary https://www.scdhec.gov/health/infectious-diseases/viruses/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19

Centers for Disease Control coronavirus website https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Andy Brack is the publisher of Charleston City Paper.