Every year there are as many as 5 million severe flu cases worldwide, and hundreds of thousands of deaths. The number of people who are infected with the new coronavirus that is spreading from China is dwarfed by those affected by a far more common respiratory illness: seasonal flu.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global emergency over coronavirus COVID-19 that has killed over 2,600 people worldwide, following an outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

More than 77,000 cases have been reported worldwide, most of them in China’s Hubei province. A man from Wuhan died in the Philippines on February 2, and Hong Kong reported its first death on February 4. The infection is now more widespread than the 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, which also originated in China.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates at least 29 million flu related illnesses, 280,000 flu hospitalizations, and 16,000 flu deaths in the United States from October 1, 2019 through February 15, 2020.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) recently reported two more pediatric deaths, now up to 15.  Fourteen percent of all pediatric flu deaths in the U.S. this flu season have occurred in Texas. In Texas alone, 2,650 people have died from flu-related illness, more than the number that have died from coronavirus worldwide. 

While hundreds more Americans have been evacuated from the city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, health officials confirmed Texas’ first case. There are 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S., according to the CDC.

There’s another killer we see in the fall season of every year, but many of us take our chances at ‘riding it out.’ In January, the CDC warned the 2019-2020 flu season would be among our worst in decades. Potentially worse than the 2017-2018 flu season when 40 million people fell victim, with more than 80,000 deaths in the U.S. Approximately 12,000 of those were Texans. The following flu season, more than 51,000 Americans died from the flu and 20 percent or 10,020 were Texans.

With the number of flu related deaths, every year, why have reactions to the coronavirus been so aggressive? A major factor is the uncertainty surrounding this new virus. Health officials don’t know how deadly the coronavirus is. From the visuals of people in China walking with face masks on, to government quarantining families and reports of only 1 household member permitted to leave the home every other day, and only to go buy food. It all seems pretty dire. Additionally, there’s no vaccination to protect against it.

Conversely, when it comes to the flu, there is a vaccine to protect ourselves from the illness entirely, or in the least, the severity of it. In the U.S, flu viruses are most common in the fall and winter months. Influenza activity begins to increase in October and November, and most often peaks between December and February. However, it can last through May.

It’s estimated Americans collectively miss 17 million workdays per year because of the flu, at a cost of $7 billion of lost productivity.

Coronavirus is scary, but so is influenza and there is a vaccine for it. Instead of worrying about what could happen, let’s be proactive and halt the spread of a virus we can control. Remember, we can all prevent what is preventable by taking action.