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How the Ebola Scare Could Cut Flu Rates

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The good news: Even though the general consensus is to panic, health officials insist we shouldn't freak out over Ebola. The extra good news: Unnecessary Ebola panic may keep everyone healthier this winter. According to a recent story in TIME, some evidence suggests that when it comes to preventing one big wintertime problem—the flu—a dose of Ebola fear might not be such a bad thing. "We might expect to see an increase in people seeking healthcare for influenza like illness this season," Richard Webby, Ph.D., and director of the World Health Organization center for studying the flu told TIME. And while the flu season is just beginning, the initial numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate an increased vigilance. “Since March of this year, the percentage of flu related [outpatient] visits has been higher than the same period in 2013. This uptick approximately correlates with the rise of Ebola new coverage," Webby added. 

While Ebola has been making headlines for months (the nearly 70 percent mortality rate among those who contract the current strain plaguing West Africa is truly terrifying) influenza is a nasty bug—and a more immediate, and potentially deadly risk here in the U.S. While Ebola is responsible for just a single death and a handful of hospitalizations domestically, nearly 400,000 people in this country were hospitalized and thousands died after coming down with the flu during the 2012 to 2013 season. 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to the flu. And if a little Ebola worry can push us to finally make the doctor's appointment we've been putting off or run out and get a flu shot (find out which flu vaccine is right for you), we'll take it. Don't forget to take other preventative measures too: wash hands frequently and keep your fingers out of your mouth, nose, and eyes. And if you do get the flu, talk to your doctor, stat.

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