Coronavirus Death Rate vs. Flu: How Deadly Is It?

coronavirus death rate

Getty Assessing the coronavirus death rate vs. the flu.

Coronavirus fears are flooding the world and putting the markets into a free fall. However, what is the death rate for the virus? If you get it, how likely are you to die? Is it more deadly than the flu?

Those are questions on many people’s minds when assessing the realities of the pandemic. To be sure, assessing the coronavirus death rate gets problematic because of one country: China. The country of origin is notoriously untrustworthy when it comes to data that could make it look bad.

The World Health Organization has calculated that 3.4% of the people worldwide with coronavirus have died. However, calculating death and mortality rates can be tricky business. That grew from an initial estimate of 2 percent.

There’s a big unknown here, though, and many believe it could push the death rate – especially the U.S. death rate – even lower. Testing. In the United States, the lack of widely available testing means that the death rate may be a lot lower. It’s simply not clear how many people are in the overall pool of infected – in other words, how many people are walking around with coronavirus but don’t die – because so few people have been tested. If many more people get coronavirus and are asymptomatic or suffer mild symptoms not requiring hospitalization, the death rate would clearly be lower.

Thus, the numbers were the best estimates authorities had, but they’re extrapolating them from known cases, which is a faulty premise. There’s no way to tell the overall pool. Thus, you can consider the estimates to be the ceiling.

In Germany, where there is widespread testing, the death rate for coronavirus is 0.74%.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated: “Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.”

The first U.S. death was reported in Washington State from coronavirus. The victim is a Seattle man in his 50s with an underlying health conditions.

Here is what is known about the coronavirus death rate vs. the flu:


The Death Rate Varies By Demographic

CDC China Weekly

Coronavirus has a death rate that varies somewhat based on demographics. The China CDC Weekly reported the results of a major epidemiological study into this question. That study analyzed 72,314 patient records, including some that were suspected cases. It determined that coronavirus had an “overall case fatality rate of 2.3%.” The study was called Vital Surveillances: The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) and it was conducted by the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Emergency Response Epidemiology Team.

However, USA Today, on March 13, 2020, put the death rate as higher; “Of the more than 127,000 people who have been infected worldwide, more than 4,700 have died. That’s a death rate of about 3.7%, and the WHO has previously estimated the rate at about 3.4%,” the newspaper reported.

Furthermore, there is a major concern that too many coronavirus cases would overwhelm the healthcare system, as there aren’t enough beds and respirators, a phenomenon already being seen in Italy.

The epidemiological study referenced above found that the death rate is higher for people over 80; for men; for retirees; people living in Hubei Province; and people suffering from other ailments, like hypertension, cancer, and diabetes.

The study further found the following:

…a total of 1,023 deaths have occurred among 44,672 confirmed cases for an overall case fatality rate of 2.3%. Additionally, these 1,023 deaths occurred during 661,609 PD of observed time, for a mortality rate of 0.015/10 PD.

The ≥80 age group had the highest case fatality rate of all age groups at 14.8%. Case fatality rate for males was 2.8% and for females was 1.7%. By occupation, patients who reported being retirees had the highest case fatality rate at 5.1%, and patients in Hubei Province had a >7-fold higher case fatality rate at 2.9% compared to patients in other provinces (0.4%). While patients who reported no comorbid conditions had a case fatality rate of 0.9%, patients with comorbid conditions had much higher rates—10.5% for those with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6.0% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer. Case fatality rate was also very high for cases categorized as critical at 49.0%.

According to a lengthy research report from the CDC, the latest available as of February 29, 2020, it’s formally called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). As most people know, the virus originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019.

The death rate can vary slightly. BBC reported: “Researchers currently think that between five and 40 coronavirus cases in 1,000 will result in death, with a best guess of nine in 1,000 or about 1%.”

It has since spread to 31 other countries and territories, including the United States, CDC reports. As of February 23, 2020, there were “76,936 reported cases in mainland China and 1,875 cases in locations outside mainland China. There have been 2,462 associated deaths worldwide,” according to the CDC.

Although 14 U.S. cases were confirmed (and more among repatriated people for a total of 53), one death has been reported in the United States from Coronavirus.

The disease spreads through respiratory transmission. “Person-to-person spread of COVID-19 appears to occur mainly by respiratory transmission. How easily the virus is transmitted between persons is currently unclear. Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, and shortness of breath,” CDC reports.

Not everyone has an equal chance of succumbing to coronavirus. “Older adults and persons with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems might be at greater risk for severe illness from this virus,” reports the CDC.

People in six states in the U.S. have come down with Coronavirus: Arizona (one case), California (eight), Illinois (two), Massachusetts (one), Washington (one), and Wisconsin (one).


How Coronavirus Compares to the Flu

GettyPassengers walk while wearing protective masks, as a preventive measure regarding the COVID-19 virus, at Jorge Chavez International Airport, in Lima on February 27, 2020.

According to CDC, coronavirus and the flu share commonalities. “COVID-19 symptoms are similar to those of influenza (e.g., fever, cough, and shortness of breath), and the current outbreak is occurring during a time of year when respiratory illnesses from influenza and other viruses, including other coronaviruses that cause the ‘common cold,’ are highly prevalent,” the site reports.

BBC notes that it’s impossible to get a true mortality rate for the flu because “people with mild flu symptoms choose never to visit a doctor.”

What’s the death rate from the flu? How many people die from it? Some estimates give the case fatality rate with seasonal flu in the United States as less than 0.1%. Mortality rate for SARS was 10%, and for MERS 34%. The New York Times puts the death rate for flu at typically around 0.1% in the U.S., according to The New York Times.

From October 1, 2019, through February 22, 2020, the CDC estimates there have been:

32,000,000 – 45,000,000
flu illnesses

14,000,000 – 21,000,000
flu medical visits

310,000 – 560,000
flu hospitalizations

18,000 – 46,000
flu deaths

“Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year,” says CDC.

How widespread is the flu? “On average, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season, with a range of between 3% and 11%, depending on the season,” reports CDC. Children are mostly likely to get sick from the flu, with older adults less likely. However, people over age 65 and those under 5, as well as those with other ailments, are least likely to recover from flu.

READ NEXT: Coronavirus in Italy.


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