The Real Story on the Coronavirus

We pride ourselves on being one of the first news outlets to call out misleading health scares. We did it with the War on Bacon, the ban on salt from the Nanny Police, and more.

And now we’ve done it again.

On January 23, we wrote that the Wuhan virus from China (now called the 2019-nCoV virus) was overblown fearmongering. Even if it did spread, it wouldn’t come close to the numbers of those infected – and killed – by the flu virus.

We beat out every news story we could find saying the same thing. The earliest folks who agreed with us was Kaiser Health News, which published a similar story the day after we did.

Now, doctors across the U.S. are echoing the same thing: The flu is far more likely to affect you. So stop wasting your energy worrying about the new Wuhan virus and start protecting yourself against the flu.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the numbers…

As we write, 636 people have died from the new 2019-nCoV virus. That’s worldwide. But in the U.S. alone, more than 10,000 people have died from the flu this season.

And these numbers may be off. Some experts estimate tens of thousands more people have the 2019-nCoV virus than the reported number, making the fatality rate far lower. And many people die from unreported flu-related illnesses. For instance, you’re six times more likely to have a heart attack within one week of getting the flu – but you might not have “flu” listed under cause of death.

Don’t let the headlines distract you from the real threat to your health – the flu virus. Do what I do and keep yourself safe with frequent handwashing, vitamin C and zinc, and getting good quality sleep. And consider your flu shot – you can read all about my stance on the vaccine here.

Q: My doctor recently prescribed a couple medications to help with pain in my lower back. Doc, I’m wondering if you have any recommendations to relieve the pain without meds. Thanks! – J.P.

A: About 35% of patients with nonspecific low-back pain (meaning the cause is unknown) receive muscle relaxants to help with the pain. They often take these after first-line treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) isn’t enough. (I don’t know what you take, but it’s likely one or both of these.)

Here’s the problem… adding a muscle relaxant doesn’t do any more to alleviate back pain than simple NSAIDs. A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine conducted a randomized trial (our gold-standard study design). It found no difference in pain relief for folks who received either a muscle relaxant or a placebo in addition to ibuprofen.

If you want to handle low-back pain, we’ve written before about the benefits of meditation, high intensity interval training for exercise, and yoga. You can read more about my tips on how to handle back pain – without medication – here.

Q: Doc, I know you’re telling us not to worry about the Wuhan virus… But I read something the other day that whether it’s that or the flu, we should use antibacterial soap. Thoughts? – C.T.

A: Triclosan is the main ingredient that makes many of these products “antibacterial.” It was in about three-quarters of liquid antibacterial soaps and one-third of bar soaps when we first wrote about this danger a few years ago. Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned it in hand soap. That’s because triclosan alters our hormones… and even interferes with heart function, leading to heart failure.

And studies have shown that good old handwashing with plain soap does a better job than any of the antibacterial products out there – like hand sanitizer. Antibacterial soaps also contribute to superbugs.

If you’re worried about the flu, give you immune system a boost. Plenty of sleep keeps your immune system strong, as does eating well. Load up on antioxidants in fruit and veggies. And even add in a probiotic. You can take a pill or make fermented foods – like yogurt and kimchi – part of your diet.

Q: There’s a new tax form specifically for seniors. Do you know if I should use that over the usual 1040 form? – T.S.

A: Form 1040-SR is meant to be a simpler, easier to read version of the Form 1040. Some of the benefits include larger font and a standard deduction chart to help you calculate your deduction. As its name suggest, this form is restricted to seniors. To use it, you have to have been born before January 2, 1955. But you can be retired, working, or not working.

There’s no requirement to use it. If you’re already comfortable with the normal 1040 or if you have a tax professional take care of everything for you, there’s no real benefit to switching. And if you use an e-filing program, you likely won’t even notice the difference.

Please keep sending your questions, comments, and suggestions to us… [email protected].

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 7, 2020