The share of influenza samples tested positive – an indicator of how the flu season is progressing – has reached 27.7 percent in the U.S. in calendar week 4. While this means that the virus got off to a quick and drastic start this winter and showed the highest levels of positive samples in at least 5 years, relief might be on the horizon.
Comparing with earlier years, most U.S. flu seasons subsided after reaching a high of 26-27 percent of positive samples. The 2019/20 season reached a high point of 26.8 percent at the end of December, before peaking again in late January.
According to reports from the CDC, the current flu season has caused at least between 210,000 hospitalizations and killed at least 12,000 people in the U.S. in the 16 weeks since it began. So far, the coronavirus outbreak originating in Wuhan, China, has a tally of 65,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths, but the majority occurred in the span of only three to four weeks.
Yet, mortality rates for the Wuhan virus appear to be higher at currently 2 percent (compared to the flu’s 0.1 percent). Because experts suspect there to be a lot more cases of coronavirus (which are not being tallied because they are mild or asymptomatic), its mortality rate could end up being lower than expected. Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, told CNBC that the lack of panic about the flu was caused by its low mortality rate, but that its deadliness lay in its ubiquitousness. “A relatively mild virus can cause a lot of damage if a lot of people get it,” Ryan said.