The Wuhan flu epidemic in China has likely peaked

Could the Wuhan flu epidemic in China be peaking, or am I indulging in wishful thinking because of a son, daughter-in-law and two grandkids living in Hong Kong?  Possibly but here’s why.

The South China Morning post ( keeps a total of the cases of the flu in China and worldwide.  The figures change throughout the day, but they don’t vary too much during the US day (Chinese night).

Looking at the totals in the US evening

From 2 Feb to 3 Feb there were just under 3,000 new cases

From 3 Feb to 4 Feb there were just over 3,000 new cases

From 4 Feb to 5 Feb there just under 4,000 new cases (3891)

From 5 Feb to 6 Feb there were slightly fewer newer case (3789)

From 6 Feb to 7 Feb there were definitely fewer new cases (3143)


Even though the totals are horrible — 31,161 cases in China (worldwide 31,482) with 636 worldwide deaths as of 5AM Eastern Standard time  7 Feb (USA), this is the second time in the China epidemic that there have been fewer new cases (and more importantly with a significant reduction from yesterday’s increase). This means we are likely at or over the peak of spreading of the epidemic (although the number of cases will continue to increase).

The number of new cases probably doesn’t contain any false positives, because of the thoroughness of the way they’ve been checked.

Caveat — only those lucky enough to make it into a hospital get checked, and stories I’ve read about how crowded they are and the long waits for care and admission, means that the number of cases are likely much higher.

Note that I include both the Chinese totals, and those worldwide as when the disease spreads worldwide (as it has) the total number of new cases will continue to increase (even if the Chinese new cases drops).

Having flown back and forth to Hong Kong several times, you couldn’t ask for a better way to spread the flu than cooping up 100+ people packed cheek by jowl in the steerage section of a large airplane for 16 – 18 hours.   This is particularly true since we now know asymptomatic people can spread the disease.

A very smart friend asked me ‘Why the excitement since influenza in the USA causes many more deaths each year’.  Well from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) we have the following —

“CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9 million – 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.”

That’s quite a range (5 fold) for number of illnesses and number of deaths, but the ratio is the same.  So what is the mortality of the flu we have in the USA?  Well 12,000/9,000,000 = .0013 or .13% which is 20 – 30 times less than the current known mortality rate of 2 – 3% for Wuhan flu.

Remember the figures are for symptomatic diagnosed cases.  There may well be many more cases with minimal or no symptoms.  Remember for every case of paralytic poliomyelitis, there were 99 infections where that didn’t happen.  Hopefully soon, we’ll have a way to test for human antibodies to Wuhan flu with specific antibodies (not all antibodies are specific) and we’ll find out the true prevalence of Wuhan flu infection.

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  • Mark Thorson  On February 8, 2020 at 12:36 am

    Isn’t the popular model of a pandemic that first the virus jumps from animal to human, and a small peak with high lethality is seen. This is followed by several generations of propagation in humans, a less-lethal strain emerges, then the real pandemic gets going. So maybe later this year after summer.

    On the other hand, we didn’t see that pattern with SARS or MERS. Maybe we’ve gotten so good with sanitation, surveillance for emerging diseases, etc. that something like the 1918 flu pandemic can never happen again.

  • Matt  On February 10, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    The China total is still heavily influenced by the count from Wuhan. Wuhan has been quarantined for longer than the incubation period now. If new infections in Wuhan didn’t drop, that would mean that quarantine was not effective – which would be really scary. More encouraging is that new non-Wuhan cases have dropped from 890 on Monday to 509 on Saturday.

  • luysii  On February 18, 2020 at 4:57 pm

    Prof. Hurst — your comment will take a while to show up (I don’t know why) but look at my comment here of 10 February — I’m as cynical as you are

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