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VERIFY: While the death rate for coronavirus is higher, more people have died from the flu

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear told reporters the flu is "significantly more deadly" than the coronavirus.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As the United States braces for the coronavirus outbreak, many government and health leaders are pumping the breaks on public panic. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear became the latest when he told reporters that the flu should be of more concern to our communities.

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“The flu has been significantly more deadly than the coronavirus,” Beshear said. “We want to make sure anytime we’re talking about a response to this, we’re also talking about if you have the flu or if you think you have the flu: make sure you get the test, don’t go to work, don’t go to school, make sure we’re not getting other people sick. If we look out for each other, we can respond effectively to both.”

THE QUESTION

Is the flu more deadly than the coronavirus?

THE ANSWER

In order to answer this question, we have to collectively agree on what we mean by "deadly" in this context. There are two ways we can look at the deadliness of a disease: the death toll, and the death rate. Under one of those measurements, Governor Beshear is right. Under the other, he's wrong.

WHAT WE FOUND

We pulled data from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization to compare the relative death tolls and death rates for both viruses. 

When comparing death rates, the claim that the flu is deadlier is false. The current death rate globally for the coronavirus is about 3.4%. The flu, meanwhile, has an average death rate of less than .2%. Under this framework, it is actually the coronavirus that is “significantly more deadly.”

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However, for most people, the death rate may not be the most relevant number to focus on. While the percentage of people who die from coronavirus is much higher, there are a lot fewer people (at least at this point) at risk of contracting it. 

If we look at the overall death tolls of the viruses, the claim makes sense. The CDC estimates there have been around 16,000 flu deaths in America alone this season. By contrast, WHO data released February 25th showed 2,761 people have been killed by the coronavirus worldwide.

The good news--whether the flu or the coronavirus has you more worried at the moment, your response should be the same: wash your hands often, and cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough.

Contact reporter Rob Harris atrjharris@whas11.com. Follow him onTwitter (@robharristv) andFacebook.

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