Comparing the coronavirus to the flu

Fears continue to mount as the number of coronavirus cases rise worldwide, The United States recorded its first death from the coronavirus in Washington state Saturday,

According to the World Health Organization statistics released Saturday, there are 85,403 confirmed cases of the coronavirus worldwide and 2,838 deaths.

But how dangerous is the coronavirus? Is it worse than the flu?

“The flu kills people,” Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said Wednesday. “This (coronavirus) is not Ebola. It’s not SARS, it’s not MERS. It’s not a death sentence.”

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are an estimated 1 billion flu cases worldwide, and there are 9.3 million to 45 million cases in the U.S. per year. Last year, there were 291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide because of the flu, and there are 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. per year, according to Johns Hopkins University.

According to CDC data through Feb. 22, this year there have been at least 32 million cases of flu in the United States, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 flu deaths,

Both the coronavirus and flu cause fever, cough, body aches and fatigue, according to Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins University, The coronavirus and flu can be mild or severe and even fatal, Maragakis said. Both also can result in pneumonia.

Both can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air, from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking, Maragakis said.

So far, the coronavirus appears to be more deadly than the common flu, according to The New York Times.

Seasonal flu strains kill about 0.1% of people who become infected, the newspaper reported. By comparison, the flu pandemic that broke out worldwide in 1918 infected 500 million people -- or about one-third of the world’s population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of deaths was estimated at 50 million worldwide and 675,000 in the United States, the CDC reported.

Early estimates of the coronavirus death rate from Wuhan, China -- the major hub of the outbreak -- have been around 2%, the Times reported. A new report, published Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine, puts the rate at 1.4%, the Times reported.

The actual death rate could be similar to that of severe seasonal flu, -- below 1 percent -- according to an editorial published in the journal by Anthony S. Fauci and H. Clifford Lane, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC.

There are differences between the coronavirus and the flu. While the coronavirus is caused by one virus, the flu can be caused by any of several different strains.

In transmission, both the coronavirus and flu are passed along in similar ways. However, Maragakis said the coronavirus could be spread through an airborne route, meaning that tiny droplets still in the air could cause others to become infected even after an ill person has left the area.

There is no known vaccine for the coronavirus, although an experimental shot may be ready for testing in humans within a few months, the Times reported. It could take at least a year for such a vaccine to become available for widespread use, the newspaper reported.

On the other hand, the CDC reports that flu vaccines are widely available and have an effectiveness rate of 40% to 60%.

“Despite the morbidity and mortality with influenza, there’s a certainty … of seasonal flu,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a news conference at the White House on Jan. 31. “I can tell you all, guaranteed, that as we get into March and April, the flu cases are going to go down. You could predict pretty accurately what the range of the mortality is and the hospitalizations [will be],” Fauci said. “The issue now with (COVID-19) is that there’s a lot of unknowns.”

Comments on this article