At least 19 million illnesses, 180,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 deaths. And those numbers are guaranteed to grow.
Frightening statistics, for sure. But they have nothing to do with the new coronavirus; instead they are this year's flu season tally so far as of late January in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In contrast, the new coronavirus by mid-week had caused at least 28,000 illnesses and 565 deaths in China, as well as about 200 illnesses, including a dozen in the U.S., and several deaths outside of mainland China.
About 30,000 victims die of flu in this nation in a typical year, and too many people are complacent about that. In contrast, the death rate from the coronavirus is about 2%, according to Dr. Jon Hallberg, medical director of the University of Minnesota Physicians Mill City Clinic.
As news about the coronavirus bombards us and stirs up concern, the general population would be much better off paying more attention to how pervasive the flu virus is.
The Kentucky state health department reported there have been a total of 15,102 flu cases reported so far this season. The actual number is higher because not all flu cases are counted.
In addition, 41 flu deaths in Kentucky have been reported, including three under the age of 18.
The latest Kentucky numbers show that the flu is at least twice as bad as it was last year at this time, when there were 7,285 confirmed cases of the flu, and 21 deaths, one under the age of 18.
This is not to dismiss concerns about coronavirus. Any new disease that jumps from animal to human transmission is a concern, but it isn't exactly a surprise. The CDC has protocols in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus and the World Health Organization is making the virus a top priority.
Flu isn't a surprise either, and the lack of attention paid to the more likely illness can be frustrating. There are still people who don't take it seriously and fail to get vaccinated. Even if individuals are willing to take a risk and not get the vaccine, they are putting vulnerable populations at risk, such as infants and those with suppressed immune systems who cannot be immunized. It's not too late to get a shot -- the flu season lasts well into spring.
New illnesses are definitely a concern, but when the likelihood of catching a predictable, well-known one is a greater possibility, that's where the most attention should go.