Why we panic about coronavirus, but not the flu
If you’re freaking out about coronavirus but you didn’t get a flu shot, you’ve got it backwards.
The big picture: A novel outbreak will always command more attention than a common illness, and the coronavirus is a serious health threat. But our newfound hyper-vigilance about infections might be more helpful if we could redirect some of it toward influenza — a significantly deadlier virus that strikes every year.
By the numbers: This new strain of coronavirus has killed 132 people so far, all of them in China. More than 6,000 total cases have been reported worldwide, although experts believe that total is underestimated.
- By comparison, this year's flu season has killed 8,200 people, with at least 15 million cases — and that's just in the U.S.
Between the lines: James Lawler, an infectious disease physician at the University of Nebraska, said pandemic viruses like the coronavirus cause more anxiety because, unlike the flu, there are not any initial countermeasures like vaccines, antivirals, diagnostic testing and monitoring systems.
- Those things exist for the flu, yet vaccination rates are low.
- "The flu is just not as new and headline-grabbing because we see it every year," said Emily Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan.
The bottom line: The coronavirus has upended the lives of many Chinese citizens, and it warrants a strong public-health response. It's just important to remember that if you're concerned about viruses, a lot of those deaths every year are preventable.
- "When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza ... coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison," William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, told Kaiser Health News.