Every few years there seems to be a new disease that is going to bring about the end of civilization. In the early 2000s, it was the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus. Several years after that panic, I remember my mom telling me to stay away from anyone who looked sick when I was in fourth grade during the swine flu pandemic. High school marked the global frenzy after the Ebola virus appeared.
The newest of these disease outbreaks is COVID-19, or the “coronavirus,” that has been filling headlines since the outbreak began. There has been an endless stream of updates, reports and breaking news headlines constantly updating us on what is going on in China, the death toll and how many people are believed to be infected. Despite this constant attention by the media, the death toll for coronavirus has reached just over 3,000 people at this point, most of those victims being the old or otherwise immunocompromised.
While the coronavirus may be the newest in a long line of deadly diseases that have caught the public eye, it is by far not the most lethal. That title goes to a disease that kills 12,000 to 61,000 people per year in the United States alone, and around half a million throughout the whole world: influenza.
In terms of raw lethality, no modern disease can match the flu. Why, then, does the media plaster so much attention on newer diseases like the coronavirus? I believe this is because the general population has become desensitized to the flu, as we’re used to hearing about it, so it doesn’t prompt the same reactions hearing about a “mysterious” new disease from China does.
This is dangerous because it can cause people to misconstrue the level of danger that these diseases pose to their health. The constant reporting on the coronavirus may make it seem like a much greater risk than it actually is, especially to someone living in the United States. In contrast, the relatively lack of reporting on the flu may make it seem like a less deadly disease in comparison.
Recently, the United States declared the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency.” This news prompted a steep decline in the stock market. According to Forbes, “This week alone, the Dow Jones industrial average fell a total of 14 percent, the S&P 500 by 13 percent and the Nasdaq Composite by 12.3 percent.” Despite this, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said it is unlikely that the virus would prompt a “full-fledged economic crisis.” This drop in the stock market is very similar to what happened during other notable outbreaks of disease, like SARS and Ebola, which knocked S&P 500 down between 6 and 13 percent. Both SARS and Ebola had minimal impact on everyday life for most Americans, aside from media-induced hysteria, and I believe the case is the same with the coronavirus.
Seasonal influenza comes with its own economic harm too, costing the United States more than $87 billion every year. Last year, only about 49 percent of people in the United States got a flu shot. At the moment, less than one hundred Americans have been infected with coronavirus, while millions have already been infected with the flu. If the media focused as much attention on the flu as they did on the coronavirus, perhaps it would prompt more people to get their flu shots. This, in turn, could lead to greater herd immunity and fewer deaths overall.
Of course, the coronavirus is a threat, especially in places where there are a lot of people already infected with the disease. The risk of contracting it, however, is much lower than that of the flu, especially for people living in the United States.
So, stop worrying about the coronavirus and get your flu shot.
Joseph Vernice is a sophomore majoring in English.