DETROIT – When we’re faced with anything new and uncertain like the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), there’s a natural tendency to comfort ourselves by comparisons to something we’re familiar with.
It’s true that many of the hallmark symptoms are the same as the flu, fever, cough, body aches, but after that -- the comparisons break down.
President Donald Trump said that the flu kills “sometimes over 100,000.” In the past 10 years, the highest influenza death toll was estimated at 61,000 in the 2017 to 2018 season. It was as low as 12,000 in the 2011 to 2012 season. COVID-19 has already killed twice as many Americans in 9 months, and it’s still killing.
When it comes to spread, COVID-19 is far more transmissible. Broadly speaking, without precautions, one person with the flu infects 1.3 to 1.7 other people. Without precautions one person with COVID-19 will infect 2 to 3 other people.
Beyond the similarities in initial symptoms of fever, cough and body aches COVID-19 has demonstrated an ability the flu does not have: Multiple organ involvement. Severe COVID-19 produces an extraordinary and deadly inflammatory process, abnormal blood clotting and damage to multiple organs -- particularly the heart.
Even if someone survives, there is growing evidence of longer term consequences in many. Finally, the simplest difference between flu and COVID-19 is that we have a vaccine and well established treatments for the flu. COVID-19 doesn’t have either of those.
COVID-19 is not influenza. THe mortality rate for the flu in people more than 65 years old is between 0.1 and 0.2 percent. The face fatality rate for COVID-19 in people age 70 to 79 in Michigan is 18 percent.