Ask the Pharmacist: Flu v. Coronavirus

Suzy Cohen
This photo taken on Feb. 3, shows a doctor being disinfected by his colleague at a quarantine zone in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, in China's central Hubei province.

There’s a virus that has become a growing threat to people of all ages. The Secretary of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in the United States.

The facts are as follows:

  • Starting Feb. 2, all passengers coming in to the U.S. who have been in Hubei province in China in the prior two weeks will be potentially isolated for 14 days. This region of China is where Wuhan is located, and that is the epicenter of the outbreak.
  • There is an entire region in China that is in complete lockdown, and they’ve quarantined more than 50 million people to contain the outbreak.
  • The WHO has deemed the virus a “global health emergency,” further advising Americans not to travel to China. So far, only a handful of Americans have caught it, and one man has already been successfully treated. His case study and treatment protocol was just published in The New England Journal of Medicine. 
  • There is human to human transmission.
  • The coronavirus, known in shorthand as 2019-nCoV is a very odd bug. Researchers are desperately trying to understand its genomic sequence so that treatment can be hastened. 
  • It is weirdly possible that a person became infected by consuming a bat, or a snake that had eaten a bat. This is theorized because the coronavirus shares 96.2 percent of its DNA sequence with a bat. And in some open food markets, wild animals are sold as food.
  • People with a cold or flu commonly use analgesics, fever reducers, cough syrup and decongestants or antihistamines.
  • Symptoms of 2019-nCoV are similar to the flu, or to the common cold so you might expect a fever, shortness of breath, weakness, coughing and asthma-like symptoms. Pneumonia is the most dangerous complication. More and more people will be walking around the U.S. with disposable face masks and whether or not that’s for the 2019-nCoV or for the flu doesn’t matter. They’re either just protecting themselves or being polite to others.
  • At this time, I think the risk of contracting coronavirus in the United States or Canada is quite small. If you travel via plane, or cruise ships then of course your risk goes up for this as well as the flu. As for the flu vaccine, it may be appropriate for protection against certain strains of influenza, however it was not ‘built’ to protect against 2019-nCoV.

Some of the following holistic remedies may be helpful during cough/cold season, however these are not useful to treat coronavirus. You must seek medical attention if you have a serious respiratory illness: 

  • Matcha tea
  • Elderberry
  • Astragalus
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Mullein root
  • Eucalyptus essential oil

I have a much more thorough version of this article which I can email to you if you’re interested. I’ll add you to my online database when you sign up for my free newsletter at

Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. The information presented here is not intended to treat, cure or diagnose any condition. Visit