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The debate is over: COVID-19 is deadlier than the flu

Published Oct 21st, 2020 1:48PM EDT
Coronavirus Death Rate
Image: Halfpoint/Adobe

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  • The CDC published a new research paper conclusively stating that COVID-19 is deadlier than the flu.
  • Researchers compared large cohorts of flu and COVID-19 patients and concluded that coronavirus had a five times higher risk for in-hospital death, as well as increased risk for 17 other medical conditions.
  • The study also confirms that racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to experience coronavirus complications.

That the novel coronavirus is more infectious, more dangerous, and deadlier than the flu should not be a surprising conclusion. Yet, some coronavirus deniers still liken COVID-19 to the flu — including the president. In the early weeks of the pandemic, it seemed like SARS-CoV-2 induced symptoms that are similar to the common cold and flu, thus prompting the comparison. But as the initial outbreak snowballed into a massive pandemic the likes of which have not been since the 1918 flu, it became clear to scientists and much of the general public that COVID-19 is nothing like influenza. The novel coronavirus kills a lot more people than a regular flu season and has longer-lasting effects on many people who survive the illness. Moreover, the over-the-counter drugs and the vaccines that can combat the flu are useless against COVID-19.

The CDC has now published an ample study that compared patients hospitalized due to the flu and COVID-19, the conclusions of which state that the coronavirus is five times deadlier than influenza. It’s also more likely to lead to potentially life-threatening complications than the flu, which is something else that coronavirus deniers need to understand.

The CDC study looked at two massive cohorts from the Veterans Health Administrations. The influenza group included 5,453 patients hospitalized between October 1st, 2018, and February 1st, 2020. The scientists chose that cut-off to prevent the inclusion of any patients who may have been infected with the novel coronavirus but misdiagnosed as having the flu. Some 3,948 patients were included in the COVID-19 group.

The researchers found that COVID-19 patients were slightly older than influenza, but they had a lower prevalence of most underlying medical conditions.

The death rate was significantly higher in the COVID-19 group, where 21% of patients died compared to only 3.8% for the influenza group. That’s a five times increase for coronavirus mortality compared to the flu. Moreover, hospitalization duration was almost three times longer for COVID-19 (average of 8.6 days) compared to the flu (average of 3 days).

Patients with COVID-19 were also at a higher risk of developing other complications compared to the flu cohort. The risk of ARDS, the respiratory complication that often leads to death in COVID-19 and other medical conditions, was 19 times greater for coronavirus patients.

Compared with patients with influenza, patients with COVID-19 had two times the risk for pneumonia; 1.7 times the risk for respiratory failure; 19 times the risk for ARDS; 3.5 times the risk for pneumothorax; and statistically significantly increased risks for cardiogenic shock, myocarditis, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, disseminated intravascular coagulation, cerebral ischemia or infarction, intracranial hemorrhage, acute kidney failure, dialysis initiation, acute hepatitis or liver failure, sepsis, bacteremia, and pressure ulcers. Patients with COVID-19 had a lower risk for five complications (asthma exacerbation, COPD exacerbation, acute myocardial infarction (MI) or unstable angina, acute congestive heart failure (CHF), and hypertensive crisis), although acute MI or unstable angina, acute CHF, and hypertensive crisis were not statistically significant when restricting to patients diagnosed during the same seasonal months.

The researchers also confirmed other studies that say racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to develop severe COVID-19 cases:

Among patients with COVID-19, the risk for respiratory, neurologic, and renal complications, and sepsis was higher among non-Hispanic Black or African American (Black) patients, patients of other races, and Hispanic or Latino (Hispanic) patients compared with those in non-Hispanic White (White) patients, even after adjusting for age and underlying medical conditions. These findings highlight the higher risk for most complications associated with COVID-19 compared with influenza and might aid clinicians and researchers in recognizing, monitoring, and managing the spectrum of COVID-19 manifestations. The higher risk for certain complications among racial and ethnic minority patients provides further evidence that certain racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionally affected by COVID-19 and that this disparity is not solely accounted for by age and underlying medical conditions.

This crucial new study concluded that “clinicians should be vigilant for symptoms and signs of a spectrum of complications among hospitalized patients with COVID-19 so that interventions can be instituted to improve outcomes and reduce long-term disability.”

As with other COVID-19 studies, the CDC paper can benefit from additional research. Scientists will likely continue to observe the novel coronavirus and compare it with the flu as winter arrives in the US. Health experts have warned that the fall and winter seasons may bring a coronavirus-flu convergence that could be dangerous to patients and overwhelm medical systems. The southern hemisphere avoided a massive flu epidemic this year, a phenomenon unseen in previous years, because coronavirus health measures also blocked the spread of flu viruses. It’s unclear whether the northern hemisphere will experience a similarly mild flu season, especially now that coronavirus cases are skyrocketing again.

A separate study said recently that the coronavirus might even be deadlier than the Spanish flu.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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