Health care workers must stop declaring the number of seasonal influenza deaths when speaking about COVID-19

I have seen a number of health care practitioners declaring the number of deaths that have occurred from seasonal influenza over various time periods when discussing COVID-19.  The number of deaths that seasonal flu has caused over the last few weeks is higher than the number of deaths from COVID-19.  However, this isn’t because seasonal flu is more dangerous, we know the opposite, we know that the death rate from seasonal flu is around 0.01%.  While the overall death rate from COVID-19 is 3.4% and the death rate is more than 20% for those who are over 80 years of age.

Seasonal influenza is important and we should take steps to prevent it, but it must NOT  be used to falsely reassure the public about COVID-19.  We are worried about what COVID-19 is going to do moving forward, seasonal influenza exists in many different strains and has been around for much longer than COVID-19, which only emerged in December 2019.

In a period of just a few weeks COVID-19 has spread to over 100 counties with over 100,000 cases.  What it has the potential to do moving forward if it cannot be contained is terrifying.  Panic and hysteria are not helpful, but as health care practitioners we have a responsibility to take on board guidance from organizations such as the World Health Organization and ensure that the general public receive accurate information on this threat, in order to understand the importance of taking precautions.

Do not confuse people who are looking to healthcare workers for advice, indicating the number of deaths from seasonal flu produces false reassurance that could have a devastating impact.  In their daily media briefing on 9th March 2020 the World Health Organization have been clear that this could be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.  Decisive early action can slow down the virus and prevent infections, we must all work together to ensure this happens.

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