Keep the headlines in perspective and look to public health officials for credible information.
Feb 11, 2020

Coronavirus is Worrisome, but Flu is Much More Dangerous to Americans

by Munish Khaneja, MD, MPH, FACP
Altruista Chief Medical Officer
Lead, Clinical Innovation

The headlines are full of alarming news about the novel coronavirus and fears of a pandemic are mounting. Certainly the tragedy unfolding in other parts of the world weighs on all of us. It’s important to keep in perspective, however, that for now, the flu is still more of a threat in the United States than coronavirus.

Americans’ risk of contracting the new strain of coronavirus identified in China is very low. So far, the only people infected in the U.S. have been those who have traveled to the region of China where the virus first appeared in humans. There have been some new cases of human-to-human transmission from close contact. While that could change, one thing is for certain: Another severe and life-threatening respiratory virus  the influenza or flu virus  is prevalent in the United States right now. In this flu season alone, which usually starts in the U.S. in October and peaks over the winter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 15 million Americans have been sickened by the flu. More than 180,000 Americans have been hospitalized, and more than 10,000 people have died. This isn't even an especially bad flu year. 

“Last year, we had 34,000 deaths from flu,” says epidemiologist Brandon Brown of the University of California, Riverside. On average, the flu is responsible for somewhere between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths each year – and this is just in the United States.”

Coronavirus Spreads More Rapidly

The reason this virus has been making the news, though, is the fact that it has spread rapidly compared to other viruses. With the first case reported on Dec. 29, 2019, by the Chinese public health authorities, we know that, as of Feb. 11, there are 43,143 confirmed cases and 1,018 deaths worldwide. The speed of infection spread and the fact that there are currently reported human-to-human transmissions are the most serious issues. The World Health Organization has declared this a public health emergency of international concern, mainly concentrated on China and with travel in and out of the country. Many countries, including the United States, are recommending not traveling to China and have now initiated the option of a quarantine for individuals who have traveled from the regions around Wuhan. This is a good idea until we have a better handle on the situation.

Protect Yourself and Others

As anyone in healthcare knows, but is still often overlooked by others, basic precautions are the key to reducing all kinds of infections. Washing hands and good overall hygiene reduce your chances of getting infected and the chances of your spreading an infection to others. Also, if you are sick, especially with cough or fever, consider limiting close contact with others. This is especially important if someone you know has recently traveled through China. If you are sick with high fevers and difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible, since you may need supportive care in a medical setting (even if the sickness is not caused by coronavirus, this is still a good idea).

In addition to these measures, staying informed with data from credible sources is your best defense. Public health officials are your best resource for reliable information.

Dr. Khaneja earned his master’s degree in public health from SUNY Stony Brook Department of Preventive Medicine in New York, where he completed a fellowship in public health and preventive medicine. He is an assistant professor in the departments of medicine and pediatrics at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn.


·        World Health Organization and Coronavirus

·        U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

·        Official Travel Advisory from United States (for China)