Everybody (or least a plurality of Americans) thinks the news stinks and the media is biased, facts they know because of the media. “Why won’t the media cover [insert hobbyhorse here]!” the righteous among us complain on Facebook, usually while posting a link, to a news article, that covered the uncovered development.
With the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, at least, these media critics have a point. Coronavirus is new and not fully understood, and people are dying from it. These are all facts, and these are facts that fuel the intense public interest in the disease, as well as a spike in internet search engine queries for Corona beer, and the accompanying media coverage.
However, it’s also a fact that there’s a disease that is far deadlier than coronavirus among us already. So far this year, this bug has killed 10,000 Americans; whereas, there are only 12 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, and, at least as of Friday, zero deaths. This confirmed stone-cold killer is not in the news, because—surprise!—it’s the flu.
Seasonal flu kills as many as 61,000 Americans every year—more deadly, at least until the last few years, than the opiate overdose epidemic. Like coronavirus, the flu is a virus that’s transmitted from person to person. And like the coronavirus, a good protection against the flu is to practice good hygiene.
But since late January, when the coronavirus first started to spread from its apparent origins in Wuhan, the regular reminders to get the flu vaccine and mind your clean habits among vulnerable populations have become distant memories, drowned out by travel bans, fake news about protesters in various countries being virus carriers, and frightened individuals cleaning pharmacies out of surgical masks.
How did we lose our way? The media, of course.
“In the U.S., [coronavirus hoopla is] really a fear based on media and this being something new,” Dr. Jennifer Lighter, hospital epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, told CNBC earlier this week. “When in reality, people can take measures to protect themselves against the flu, which is here and prevalent and has already killed 10,000 people.”
Like the flu, the coronavirus appears to be most problematic, and potentially deadly, among already vulnerable populations: older people and people with weakened immune systems or preexisting lung issues. That’s also true of most every disease. What’s different about the new “novel” coronavirus is that not only does it appear less deadly than SARS and MERS, two other recent coronaviruses, it doesn’t appear to be harming children.
Worldwide, at least 31,400 people have contracted coronavirus, but the real number is probably closer to 75,000 in Wuhan alone, according to an article published Wednesday in JAMA, and it’s an epidemic that doubles in less than a week.
What’s good to note is that most cases have been “mild,” even if patients were stricken with some level of pneumonia (no fun).
But, most interestingly, “the median age of patients is between 49 and 56 years,” doctors Carlos del Rio and Preeti Malani wrote. “Cases in children are rare.”
Unlike the flu, there’s still no coronavirus vaccine. And the coronavirus situation is still evolving as public health officials learn more about the disease, how it’s traveling and who it is affecting. But for now, the same techniques that guard against the flu appear to work against coronavirus—which, wherever you are, is not already stalking your community. But the flu is.