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Health Team

Coronavirus versus the flu: Comparison of cases, deaths

Posted February 15, 2020 1:29 p.m. EST
Updated March 19, 2020 6:44 a.m. EDT

With so much unknown about coronavirus, many people have questions like, "How much worse is COVID-19 than the flu?" or "How much more likely am I to catch COVID-19 than the seasonal flu?"

While health experts do not have these answers, the CDC and NCDHHS have statistics about both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu from this year. To help provide some perspective, it may be helpful to not look at coronavirus numbers in a void, but compare them to a more familiar illness. In an effort to make this kind of research easier, we have compiled statistics in this article.

Here are updated statistics about COVID-19 versus influenza from October through March from the CDC and NCDHHS, as well as some things most experts agree to be true about one illness versus the other.

1. COVID-19 appears to be more infectious than flu. It seems that a patient with COVID-19 spreads it to more people than they would if they just had the flu, meaning coronavirus has potential to spread farther and faster than influenza.

2. Right now, coronavirus appears to be more deadly than the flu. According to CNN, "On average, about 1 in 1,000 people who get flu die from it -- mostly the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, but flu sometimes kills healthy young people and pregnant women."

3. We don't have as much information about COVID-19 as we do the flu. It can be difficult to tell how lethal coronavirus really is because of the lack of sample size. "We don't know the precise case fatality ratio for Covid-19 because of incomplete testing of possible cases and insufficient information about outbreaks," according to CNN.

With so many statistics and news stories flying around, it can be difficult for people to keep track. Myths and panic may spread even faster than viruses.

To combat that, here are the most recent stats on the flu versus coronavirus, based on the latest metrics from the CDC, and how it's impacting not only the US, but North Carolina itself.

The flu versus coronavirus

*Data through March 18, 2020

Coronavirus globally:

  • Estimated 192,000 cases total
  • 7,800 deaths from coronavirus (3,024 in China)
  • 66,908 recovered from coronavirus

Coronavirus in the United States:

Coronavirus in North Carolina:

  • 93 presumptive cases of coronavirus
  • 0 deaths from coronavirus

Influenza in the United States:

  • 310,000 – 560,000 estimated flu hospitalizations
  • 32 million – 45 million estimated flu cases
  • 18,000 – 46,000 estimated flu deaths
  • CDC flu metrics for 2019-2020

Influenza in North Carolina:

  • 35,000 estimated cases of the flu
  • 127 deaths

Comparing the numbers

  • Many more people have died from the flu than have contracted coronavirus in the US.
  • CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu.
  • There are many more estimated cases of the flu in the United States than there are coronavirus cases globally.
  • There are about a third as many cases of flu estimated in North Carolina (35,000) than there are coronavirus cases globally (100,000).

These metrics are based on the latest numbers from the CDC and the North Carolina Division of Public Health, between October 2019 and March 10, 2020.

The tips for staying safe and healthy are similar between the two illness, said Dr. Richard Chung from Duke Health. He said, "Wash your hands. Stay away from others if you feel sick. Sneeze and cough into your elbow."

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