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The coronavirus outbreak is concerning, but flu season is still dangerous

sick child
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The disease COVID-19, which is caused by the novel coronavirus, continues to spread throughout the world. 

At the moment, the World Health Organization says it appears to be deadlier than the flu, although it may not spread as easily.

"Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than one percent of those infected," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a March 4 press briefing.

But it's important to note that in a recent WHO report on what's happened in China, scientists found the fatality rate was higher in the initial outbreak in Wuhan than in other parts of the country (5.8% in Wuhan vs. 0.7% in other areas in China.

It's difficult at this point for officials to assess an accurate death rate for coronavirus because many people have mild cases (it's estimated about 80% of cases are mild) or might be infected but not show any symptoms, and therefore may not seek treatment.

The final update to this post was on Thursday, March 5. Click here for the latest coverage from Michigan Radio.

Concern over the spread of coronavirus has reached Michigan, although there have not yet been any confirmed cases in the state. 

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has activated the state Emergency Operations Center to coordinate with state, local and federal agencies to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Detroit Metro Airport is screening passengers for the disease, and the U.S. State Department has issued a level four "do not travel" warning for China.

More than 90,000 people in at least 79 countries have been infected, and more than 3,000 have died. In the U.S as of March 5, there are 162 cases and 11 deaths.

Hospitals are not required to immediately report flu-related deaths for adults, but estimates show that more than 1,300 people died from the flu complications during the 2018-19 season in Michigan alone. Nationwide, the CDC estimates that over 34,000 Americans died from the flu.

Credit The Journal of the American Medical Association
This JAMA infographic highlights the danger of coronavirus compared to that of influenza.

That's not to say the coronavirus outbreak isn't concerning. Many people have traveled in and out of the region where it appears to have originated, increasing the chances that it will spread. Scientists are working on a vaccine for coronavirus but say it could take a year or more.

But there is already a safe, effective vaccine that helps to stop the flu from spreading.

Still, only 46% of Michiganders got their flu vaccine last year. That's less than the national average of 49%. In some counties, the average was as low as 10%. And while vaccines don't guarantee that you won't get the flu, they do reduce the chance of severe illness. The vaccine also reduces the chance that healthy, low-risk adults will pass the disease onto more vulnerable people.

Influenza is a common and extremely contagious respiratory disease caused by different kinds of influenza virus viruses. Symptoms include fever, body aches, fatigue, cough, runny nose, and sore throat. It can also lead to vomiting and diarrhea, but that is more likely for children than adults.

Cases can range from mild to severe. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of complications than others. 

While it's unclear right now how long the risk for coronavirus will last, the flu season can last through May. Flu vaccines are still available, so check with your physician for details or see where you can get your flu shot here

This post was updated Thursday, March 5 to reflect the latest number of deaths and illnesses from coronavirus and influenza.

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Emma is a producer for the digital content team at Michigan Radio. Her duties span all things web-related, from news reporting and photography to digital fundraising and graphic design. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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