This article appeared in The Detroit News. Read the full story here.
A second wave of seasonal influenza is taking hold in the U.S., just as health officials are on high alert for new cases of the novel coronavirus. Many of the symptoms are the same, but when it comes to immediate risk, Americans should fear the flu more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 19 million Americans have fallen ill with the flu so far this season, including 180,000 who ended up in the hospital. About 10,000 Americans have died, including more than 60 children.
The flu season, however, has taken a back seat to the coronavirus emanating from Wuhan, China. That pathogen has already infected almost 10,000 people in more than two dozen countries, the vast majority in China. In the U.S., there are only six cases of the coronavirus, dubbed 2019-nCoV, five of whom were diagnosed after returning from China. The sixth contracted it from his wife, an Illinois resident in her 60s who had recently visited family in Wuhan. None have died.
Both viruses start off similarly: cough, fever and in some cases difficulty breathing. The key difference is that people most at risk for the coronavirus will have either traveled to China or been in close contact with someone who is already infected, said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
This flu season in the U.S. began earlier than usual. It started picking up in mid-November with a surge of influenza B, a strain that typically develops later in the cycle and hits children the hardest. More than half of all tests coming back positive for the flu this season have been in children and young adults under age 25, typically a healthier group of people.
Because the elderly are the most likely to fall gravely ill and die from influenza, the rate of hospitalization and mortality remained well below average even as infection rates climbed.