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Coronavirus Has Killed More Americans Than the Last 5 Flu Seasons Combined

With more than 210,750 Americans dead from COVID-19 since March, the virus is killing people at an unprecedented rate, unlike any disease seen in over 100 years.

Yet an incorrect belief, that COVID-19 is no more deadly than the seasonal flu, continues to circulate on social media, frequently driven by President Donald Trump. On Tuesday, he dangerously tweeted that “sometimes over 100,000” people die of the flu each year and that Americans should not shut down their lives for COVID-19, which he claimed is “in most populations far less lethal.” Facebook removed a similar post from Trump — who is currently sick with COVID-19 — and Twitter flagged the tweet, saying that violated Twitter rules “about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19.”

In truth, significantly fewer people die from the seasonal flu each year — between 12,000 to 61,000 Americans annually. There have been some years, such as the 2017-2018 flu season when an estimated 80,000 Americans died, that are more severe, but those are outliers — during the 2019-2020 flu season, an estimated 22,000 people died, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In just eight months, COVID-19 has already killed more Americans than the last five flu seasons combined, CNN reported.

Not only is COVID-19 more deadly, it is far more infectious. During a regular flu season, each person with the flu will go on to infect around 1.28 other people. In comparison, individuals with COVID-19 will infect two to three other people, setting off a significantly larger chain of infections.

Once people are infected with COVID-19, they may have asymptomatic or mild cases. But there is a risk, which goes up significantly if they have preexisting conditions, that they will develop severe symptoms such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, sepsis, blood clots, heart failure and kidney injury, along with other complications that require hospitalizations. And currently, there is no immediate treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, only medications that may improve symptoms.

That all makes COVID-19 more deadly than the flu, which Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emphasized on Tuesday.

"You don't get a pandemic that kills a million people and it isn't even over yet within influenza," Fauci said on NBC News shortly after Trump’s tweet. "So it is not correct to say it's the same as flu. It has some overlapping symptomatology early on. But flu doesn't do the things to you that COVID-19 can."

Since the president was infected last week, he has claimed preventing COVID-19 is a matter of not being "afraid" of the virus — which critics say is dangerous language and ignores simple prevention methods like wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Fauci, who also said that COVID-19 “is very much different from influenza,” declined to call out Trump’s tweet directly.

"I have a job to do, and my personally contradicting the president of the United States publicly is not a good thing if I want to get my job done," he said.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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  • Posted on October 7, 2020