The coronavirus flu has led to more than 454,000 illnesses and more than 20,550 deaths worldwide.
For comparison, in the U.S. alone, the influenzavirus flu has caused an estimated 38 million illnesses, 390,000 hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
*Worldwide and on the same timeline as the coronavirus flu ~ the influenzavirus flu also from China led up to +290,000 deaths. World Health Organization
THE GLOBAL FUROR OVER
With flu season still winding down, at least 144 children younger than 18 have died, a toll topped only by the 2009 H1N1 pandemic since health authorities began tracking flu data in 2004.
So far this season, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded 36 million flu cases in the U.S., with 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths.
America at Standstill
As of March 7, CDC reports, “hospitalization rates in children 0-4 years old and adults 18-49 years old are now the highest on record for these age groups, surpassing the rate reported during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.”
Despite the record numbers, influenzavirus has all but been ignored, says Dr. Roger Klein, a molecular pathologist at Yale University. “There’s been very little mention of it.”
Flu experts say that’s not surprising.
“Flu is an old enemy. We’re kind of used to it,” says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
“Coronavirus is new, mysterious, unknown. We didn’t want it to come here, but it came and [with] a fatality rate among older people that is probably higher than flu. The entire human population is susceptible to this new virus, and it’s working its way around the world. Who goes into shelter at home or lockdown for flu?”
“All of these things,” Schaffner says, “have conspired to divert our attention from flu.”
There are over 16,000 cases of coronavirus in the United States as of midday March 20th, according to Johns Hopkins University, with 210 deaths.
Unlike coronavirus, which seems to hit older adults the hardest, the flu strains circulating this season – B Victoria and H1N1 – disproportionately attack children and young adults, Schaffner says. At Vanderbilt’s testing center, where 1,000 people are being tested for coronavirus each day, flu cases outnumber coronavirus cases by a wide margin.
“It’s quite clear that there are many more people [testing] positive for flu than for coronavirus,” he says. “Our rate of positive coronavirus tests is less than 5%. Of every 100 tests, we get 5 positives. We have three to five times as many positive tests for flu and other respiratory viruses, but mostly flu.”
Schaffner notes that the hospital’s coronavirus test results likely reflect a higher infection rate than in the community as a whole, because tests are being ordered only for patients with fever and respiratory symptoms.
So far, he says, middle Tennessee, home to the Nashville-based university medical center, is not a coronavirus hotspot.
Still, he says, the flu is being overshadowed by coronavirus. “Our flu cases are persisting. We have not seen a downward inflection yet.”