Coronavirus v. Flu

by James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Warning: The calculation of percentages was done by me and could be wrong. The other figures come from the CDC and WHO.

My friend Anne asked me to give her some statistics on the coronavirus that would help her understand it in relation to the flu. I have taken my numbers from the CDC but did my own percentage calculations. Please let me know if my math is wrong. Here is my simplified table of their statistics for the annual flu seasons in the United States. The percentage of people dying is in relation to those getting sick.

Annual flu statistics

I found the statistics for the coronavirus from the World Health Organization. As of February 17, 2020, there have been 71,429 confirmed cases with 1,772 deaths, which is the death rate of 2.48%. (Someone, check my calculations, that seems very high.) It would mean if the 2017-2018 flu season that infected 45,000,000 people had been the coronavirus, 1,116,000 people would have died, as compared to the 61,000 from regular influenza.

However, people don’t have any natural immunity to the coronavirus, and as of yet, there have been no vaccines created. If it hit America a good deal more than 45,000,000 might become infected. Supposedly 675,000 Americans died in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed 20-50 million people worldwide. But then the global population was only 1.8 billion as opposed to our 7, which suggests the coronavirus could be much less deadly than the Spanish flu. On the other hand, medical science wasn’t as advanced in 1918.

Let’s hope the Chinese can control the coronavirus. This could be very bad.


10 thoughts on “Coronavirus v. Flu”

  1. No question that the COVID-19 coronavirus is a scary prospect just now. I think a lot of the issue stems from the unknowns of it, including – as far as I can tell – not enough information emerging from China. That same paucity doesn’t help alleviate fears. What worries me is the economic impact – and not just in direct terms from the disruption of supply lines to and from China (which seems to be a key part of many global manufacturing supply chains, even here in NZ where I am). What concerns me is the vulnerability of the ‘health’ of the global economy just now to an ‘exogenous shock’ – of which the COVID-19 issue fits the bill rather too well. A double whammy seems on the cards if we’re not careful. Ouch.

    1. Apple is already worried about its supply chain. We live in a tightly integrated economic world. The other day I watched a series of little films on the collapse of the Bronze age societies. They had complex societies that shattered when key elements were disturbed. I think our economies are far more hardened and can take quite a lot of shocks. But a worldwide pandemic would have a huge economic impact.

      1. Yes it will, and I fear in ways that will be extremely nasty. What worries me particularly is the indirect effect on the abstract ‘money markets’ – coupled with the fact that the structural problems created by the GFC of 2007-10 haven’t been resolved. I worked for many years in NZ’s central bank (our equivalent of the Federal Reserve) and had a front row seat when the neo-liberal economic revolution collapsed, back then. The world was on track for a second Great Depression. It was fixed, essentially, by pouring money into the system. That’s gone into fixed asset prices (housing, mostly) without curing the underlying problems. I understand things are essentially teetering, ready for another economic ‘event’, which won’t take much to trigger… and along comes the COVID=19 virus. This is on top of any direct economic effects of the virus itself via damage to supply chains etc (which are also a real worry). Ouch.

  2. James,
    You have given a perfect example of why I hold humans in such total disdain, why I became that old retired man who never wants to step foot out of his house.
    On one hand, “life,” the focus of that life is about the conflict of that daily life–the socio-political (Democrats v Republicans, conservatives v liberals), Religious v Athesit and Religion v Other Religions, men v women, race v race v ethnicity v culture, democracy v socialism v communism, the wealthy v the middle class v the poor…You get the point. We’re broken down into–and we do it voluntarily, as well–neat little tribes and it is endless debate, this tribe, this class, this group v that and everyone is expected…no, damned well required to “pick a side”.
    But at the very thought of something bigger, something larger, something about which quite possibly “man” can do nothing about, something that threatens EVERYONE…at that moment, everyone then wants to become Reginald Denny, stare into the camera, and say, “Can’t we all just get along?”
    It is that old episode from “The Twilight Zone” (’85-’86), “A Small Talent for War”.
    The aliens arrive, give the humans 24 hours to “prove themselves” or they will eradicate all humans. He pops back by, 24 hours later, and the humans are oh so proud of themselves because they finally have all agreed that all can live in peace.
    And the alien laughs and says, “Nope. That ain’t what we wanted at all.” And it ends with the aliens flying away and earth left to be destroyed. (You and I grew up watching those old b&w movies about “earth v the flying saucers”–damn, that’s actually the title of one of those movies–and once, just once, I wanted to see the aliens win.)
    So now here is that coronavirus-thing, and the “news” is less and less about what separates and divides humans, less and less about those socio-political arguments, less about race and sex and gender and–oh dear God, I want to stand outside at midnight and scream at the world and tell it to just shut the hell up and go away–and more about how “they got to do something” or “we could all die”.
    “They,” that nebulous entity that rules, governs, and controls, the “they” we all like to blame for life being a living hell, that same “they” (once defined by someone as “The Heirarchy Enslaving You”) are now being turned to to, what, play savior?
    Why? I mean there is no shortage of people who are preaching a new gospel that human overpopulation is the big problem to explain why there is so much hunger in the world, why it is that overpopulation and over-crowding that is responsible for so much of the violence, the crime, i.e., man’s inhumanity to man. (And damn, now I am remembering that movie from ’72, “Z.P.G.”.) So maybe the eradication of a few million or so humans would make all of those people happy. It is, after all, what they want…isn’t it?
    I was just a wee-lad when my mom shoved her index finger in my face one day and said, “Be careful what you wish for, little man. You just might get it.”
    I’m 67 years old and I have watched humans get everything they want–more education, better jobs, more money, faster cars, living longer, more sex, free sex, sex with anyone at any time, and on and on and on–and they remain miserable, conflicted, and essentially pissed off at each other.
    If there is “intelligent life” in the universe, it damned sure ain’t to be found on this planet.
    And that’s just me being my normal cynical self. After all, a coin has two-sides. But it is that damned edge that binds the two together.
    James, stay sate and be well.

    1. James I’m with you! After 60 odd years watching us rip the heart out of each other and our planet I’m becoming of the opinion that humankind is nothing but a runaway parasite species. I see no bright future with the blood sucking powers that currently be in charge. Or of those, waiting in the wings. Or of how to be rid of them?

      History shows mankind’s true nature. If you look for it today, perhaps a little better hidden, but you’ll find nothing much has changed. We are who we are!

    2. You have to remember that we’re getting old and jaded. That pessimism comes with aging. We have to make adjustments to our calculations for how age-related pessimism distorts our sense of reality.

      Things aren’t as bad as we think they are. There is a tremendous amount of happiness and intelligence in the world if you look for it. Not to go all Pollyanna on you Randy, but don’t always focus on the negative, spend some time contemplating the positive.

      I find Facebook and YouTube to be very good sources of items about the outside world that uplift my spirit. I watch the news less, and them more. Seeing family members getting married, having new babies, traveling around the world seeing far out things, discovering new jobs and hobbies, shows that some people are very happy with this world.

  3. Jim, the WHO data for “outside of China” shows 3 deaths out of 794 confirmed cases. That’s a death rate of 0.38%, which is higher than seasonal flu but much less than 2.5%.

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