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Is the new virus more ‘deadly’ than flu? Not exactly

The Associated Press

What’s more deadly – the flu, SARS or the new coronavirus discovered in China?

There are different ways to look at it and even knowledgeable folks sometimes say “deadly” when they may mean “lethal.”

A doctor takes a swab from a woman to test for the COVID-19 virus at a fever clinic in Yinan county in eastern China's Shandong province on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. China on Wednesday reported another drop in the number of new cases of a viral infection and 97 more deaths, pushing the total dead past 1,100 as postal services worldwide said delivery was being affected by the cancellation of many flights to China.

Lethality means the capacity to cause death, or how often a disease proves fatal.

Chinese scientists who looked at nearly 45,000 confirmed cases in the current COVID-19 outbreak concluded the death rate was 2.3%. But there are questions about whether all cases are being counted: Infected people with only mild symptoms may be missing from the tally. That means the true fatality rate may be lower.

Deadly is a broader concept that takes in how far and easily a virus spreads.

SARS proved fatal in about 10% of cases in the 2003 outbreak but was controlled quickly and spread to about 8,000 people in all.

The flu’s mortality rate is 0.1%, yet it kills hundreds of thousands around the world each year because it infects millions. So the size of the outbreak matters as much as the lethality in terms of how deadly a disease is.