Why Coronavirus is Not the Flu
Have you heard that the Coronavirus is Not the Flu? We have comparison information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the differences. The most frequent symptoms of the coronavirus are fever, dry cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Symptoms that also happen to show up with influenza. Sharing symptoms with the common flu – along with the coronavirus appearing in the middle of flu season – have prompted inevitable comparisons. Thousands of people die from the flu every year. A fact that many people, including President Trump, have pointed out in an effort to ease anxiety about the coronavirus. While there are many unknowns, we do know that COVID-19 is a different disease from influenza. Comparing the two diseases is “missing the point”, public health officials explain. Yes, there are similarities between flu and coronavirus but “it’s a little simple to think the novel coronavirus is just like flu,” says Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Last year, the CDC reported 34,000 people in the United States died from the flu. The number of deaths fluctuates between 12,000 to 61,000 each year, but the average mortality rate for the flu is 0.1%. Meaning, 1 out of 1000 flu cases result in death. In contrast, data from WHO estimates that the coronavirus mortality rate is around 1%, or 10 out of 1000 coronavirus cases result in death. This is 10x more lethal than the seasonal flu.
Preliminary data indicates the COVID-19 is much more transmissible than the flu with an average incubation period of 5 days. So people may be contagious before symptoms develop, making it difficult or even impossible to control the spread of the virus. On average, each person with the coronavirus appears to infect 2.2 other people. Conversely, a flu patient is most contagious three or four days AFTER symptoms begin. According to the CDC, and the average flu patient spreads the virus to 1.3 other people.
Another reason not to compare the two viruses is influenza has likely been around for thousands of years and humans have built up immunity over generations. The flu has been studied intensively and several vaccines exist. Our healthcare system is set up to handle flu season with only 1%-2% of flu cases needing hospitalization for an average of five to six days. By comparison, the new coronavirus is three months old, people have no established immunity and experts predict a vaccine is still 12-18 months away. Data analyzed from China shows a hospitalization rate of 20% for coronavirus patients (10x higher than flu), and an average hospital period of 11 days. Yes, the flu is a problem every year but the new coronavirus threatens to put a much greater burden on health systems than the flu does.
“Between 100,000 and 200,000” people may die from COVID-19, and millions more will be infected estimates Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Trump administration’s top health official on the coronavirus task force. This estimate is based on modeling of the current pace of the coronavirus spread in the U.S. as of April 1. No one knows what percentage of the population will eventually contract COVID-19 but widespread transmission is expected in the coming months. The CDC predicts most of the U.S. population will be exposed to the virus. Left unchecked, coronavirus has the potential to be worse in terms of deaths than the flu. We need to take coronavirus seriously right now.