Yahoo Lifestyle reports an estimated 19 million Americans have been infected with the flu so far this season, and 180,000 of them have been hospitalized because of the illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flu virus has already killed an estimated 10,000 people across the U.S., including 68 children, according to the CDC. In fact, the 2019-2020 flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in years. In contrast, the Wuhan coronavirus has infected more than 28,000 people and killed 565, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.  Robert R. Redfield, MD, director of the CDC, stated in a Jan. 30 press release: “We understand that this [coronavirus] may be concerning, but based on what we know now, we still believe the immediate risk to the American public is low.”

Fear spreads.

Americans may be more fearful of the coronavirus because it shares similar symptoms with the flu, including coughing and fevers, making it difficult to distinguish what type of illness individuals are coming into contact with during their daily travels heightening their concerns.  Medical experts acknowledge the increased concern and believe if the disease were not apparent at the same time as flu season, individuals would be less apprehensive and the illness would have a tighter focus.

Investigating patients and increasing diagnostics.

On January 27, health officials monitoring the coronavirus in the U.S. said there are currently 110 “persons under investigation” across 26 states, noting that the number “will only increase” as the outbreak in China continues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in an update on Monday that five of the cases in the U.S. tested positive for the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, and 32 so far had produced negative results. At this point, the CDC said the virus does appear to have mutated, but described the outbreak as a “rapidly changing situation.” The virus has killed at least 81 people in China and sickened over 2,700 more. The CDC said 16 other international locations had reported a case of the virus. All five cases confirmed in the U.S. have been in those who traveled to Wuhan recently, where officials have traced the outbreak to a live animal and seafood market. Since the first cases were reported in early December, the virus has been found to be transmissible between humans.

The agency has a diagnostic test available, but right now all testing must be done at CDC labs in Atlanta, although they are working on developing a test that can be sent to state health agencies. Privacy concerns are increased as more people become sick with the virus, and medical institutions and doctors are doing their best to contain the spread of disease, and keep the patient’s and treating facilities safe while maintaining patient privacy laws that restrict access to patient’s records.

Publc Health Services.

The Public Health Service (PHS) Act forms the foundation of the HHS’ legal authority for responding to public emergencies by authorizing the HHS Secretary to take key actions, such as lead all federal public health and medical response, declare a public health emergency, assist states in meeting health emergencies, maintain the Strategic National Stockpile, and control communicable diseases. Under section 361 of the PHS Act, the HHS Secretary is authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the US and between states.  The authority for carrying out these functions on a daily basis is delegated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.

During emergency situations such as pandemic diseases, concern for the masses may take priority over patient privacy concerns.  Legal issues may arise out of decisions to hold someone in quarantine or share their medical records in an attempt to contain the disease.  An attorney who specializes in medical law may be able to answer questions related to epidemic or pandemic disease control.


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