Is It Coronavirus or Is It the Flu?

The world continues to monitor the outbreak of 2019-nCoV with dread. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Situation Report on 2019-nCoV dated February 10, 2020,[1] there were 40 554 cases of confirmed 2019-nCoV infection worldwide (with 909 confirmed deaths). Only 319 of these cases have been diagnosed outside China, with 12 cases diagnosed in the United States.

Although highly concerning, these numbers are dwarfed by the number of individuals affected by influenza in the United States alone in the 2019-2020 flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates at least 22 million cases of influenza in the United States this flu season, with 210,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths.[2] Although this flu season has been remarkable for the predominance of influenza B strain infections, the CDC notes that the rate of infection with influenza A H1N1 has been on the rise over the past several weeks. In addition, whereas the overall rate of hospitalization because of influenza is similar to previous years, this flu season has resulted in higher rates of hospitalization among children and young adults.

According to these numbers, it is currently much more likely to encounter a patient with influenza vs 2019-nCoV in the United States, but how else can clinicians differentiate between 2019-nCoV and influenza?

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this activity, participants should be able to: 
  • Compare the epidemiology of the current outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) with influenza statistics from the United States
  • Analyze how to distinguish between 2019-nCoV and influenza according to the patient’s presentation
  • Outline implications for the healthcare team