Currently, most of the major headlines focus on the coronavirus and for good reason. According to the latest count from the New York Times, over 68,500 people have been infected, causing 1,669 fatalities. These are the minimum numbers. As the days lead into weeks, the figure will almost surely jump substantially higher. However, some media sources are doing a disservice by comparing outbreaks, putting the coronavirus into “context.”
Earlier this month, Healthline.com declared that Americans don’t need to panic about the coronavirus. Confidently, the health-related resource stated that in the U.S., the odds of getting the virus are “almost zero.” Therefore, if you haven’t been to China, your biggest worry is influenza.
Statistically, it makes sense to compare the outbreaks to bring calm to the situation. After all, the coronavirus has “only” killed less than 1,700 people (as far as we know). On the other hand, Healthline reports that between 2017 and 2018, the flu caused 60,000 fatalities in the U.S.
So, everything is cool, right? Well, not really.
For one thing, we don’t know much about the coronavirus. Health investigators are still studying how the virus spreads. Furthermore, pharmaceutical companies are scrambling for an effective vaccine. Therefore, the unknown really makes the coronavirus a tremendous risk.
And how about that “almost zero” comment? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is aggressively ramping up their containment effort. In their recent view, they’d take great issue with those forwarding an almost-zero probability.
Not All Outbreaks Have the Same Impact
The second issue I have with comparing outbreaks is that not all diseases lever the same impact. And by that, I’m talking about economic effects.
According to the CDC, those who are at high risk for the flu are:
- Adults 65 years and older
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
Aside from certain ethnic considerations, the flu poses the greatest threat to those who are medically vulnerable. Typically, these vulnerable people pose economic challenges to a society: I’m just stating facts, not trying to be a dick.
On the other hand, the coronavirus has impacted people across the demographic spectrum, from 22 to 92. The median age of patients is 56 years old, well within working-age status.
Therefore, the coronavirus will have a far greater economic impact than influenza, which is a known entity. So no, don’t compare the two. It will lead to false conclusions and misplaced optimism.