64ºF

Health experts issue warning: Coronavirus is not the same as the flu

Doctors worried comparison will create false sense of security

Many people have compared the new coronavirus to the seasonal flu, but health experts are worried that might give people a false sense of security.

Local 4′s Dr. Frank McGeorge said he’s concerned that he’s heard many people say, coronavirus is “just like the flu.” That implies we don’t need to pay extra attention to the outbreak.

Click here if you want to submit a question about the coronavirus.

But there are significant differences between the two.

“It’s brand new,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “When you have a brand new virus in which no one has had any experience before, that gives the virus kind of an open roadway to spread.”

Another major difference is that while we know what to expect from the seasonal flu, experts are discovering new information about COVID-19 each day.

One unknown is what percentage of people it kills.

“Right now, if you look at the people who just come to the attention of the health authorities, that’s 2% to 2.5%, but even if it goes down to 1%, that’s still very, very serious,” Fauci said.

By comparison, the seasonal flu kills 300,000 to 650,000 people a year worldwide. That means it kills just 0.1% of the people it infects. That’s with an effective flu vaccine and treatments -- neither of which have become available for COVID-19.

Coronavirus, even if low estimates are right, appears to be significantly more deadly than the seasonal flu.

“So if it went from 2% to 1%, you were still 10 times more lethal than the standard influenza that we get on a seasonal basis,” Fauci said.

So far, about 20% of the coronavirus cases have been severe or critical. By comparison, it’s estimated that less than 2% of those infected with the seasonal flu this year have needed to be hospitalized.

Some strategies that are effective at reducing the spread of the flu and COVID-19 are frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding sick people and staying home when you don’t feel well.


About the Authors: