Health experts say comparing death tolls of an emerging epidemic with longstanding diseases risks underplaying COVID-19

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Thu, March 19, 2020

A chart has been shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter alongside a claim it shows the seriousness of the novel coronavirus epidemic has been exaggerated when its death toll is compared to other diseases. But health experts say the graphic is misleading and risks underplaying the danger of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which is a new disease with a fast-rising mortality rate. CBSSM's Associate Director, Brian Zikmund-Fisher discussed this misleading chart: “Comparing a rapidly spreading disease to conditions which have stable prevalences is an unfair comparison, and it leads the audience to perceive the risk of SARS-CoV-2 as ‘low’ in gist despite its incredible potential to overtake all of these in a very short period of time. What we need (and I have seen) is more graphics showing the time trends."