Story at a glance
- At least 15 million flu illnesses reported this season.
- The World Health Organization reports flu causes 5 million cases of severe illness worldwide and kills 650,000 people a year.
- There have been five confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. so far.
In China, more than 50 million people are on lockdown as authorities race to try to contain the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus that has killed at least 80 people and infected thousands of others so far. News of the virus has prompted some concern in the United States, but a more common virus is posing a greater threat to Americans — the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that so far this season, there have been at least 15 million flu illnesses for the 2019-2020 season, 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths in the U.S. The CDC reports there have been 54 reported flu-related pediatric deaths this season from Influenza B viruses.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the flu causes up to 5 million cases of severe illness globally and kills up to 650,000 people annually.
“When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there’s just no comparison,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Kaiser Health News. “Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial.”
Health experts warned earlier this month that this flu season could be just as deadly as the 2017-2018 season, when 61,000 flu-related deaths were recorded.
But the coronavirus outbreak that is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan last month should be taken seriously. At least 81 people have died in China as a result of the virus that can cause pneumonia. More than 2,700 others have been infected in more than a dozen countries, including five confirmed cases in the U.S. At least 60 people were being tested in the U.S. for the disease as well. Officials expect more deaths and infections to follow, and some health experts estimate as many as 100,000 people could be infected in China.
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But still, the flu rarely gets the sort of headlines an outbreak like the coronavirus does, despite killing more Americans each year than any other virus, and Americans do not seem to be particularly worried.
The CDC reports fewer than half of American adults got a flu shot last season, and only 62 percent of children received the vaccine, despite being vulnerable to respiratory illnesses.