Coronavirus vs. the Flu

Although there are still many unknowns about COVID-19, there is some solid information from researchers that sheds light on some of the similarities and differences at this time.

Infographic on COVID-19

COVID vs. The Flu: How They Each Make You Feel

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. But these symptoms can also stem from the basic influenza virus as well (normally just called, the flu). A small percentage of those infected will respond with aches and pains, or sniffles. If you have any of these symptoms and especially if you have been near an area with confirmed COVID-19 cases, please contact your doctor right away.


COVID vs. The Flu: How They Each Spread

COVID-19 and the flu can be passed to another person either through the air, as when you sneeze and droplets are expelled from your nose and mouth. But they can also live on certain surfaces like a handrail, tabletop or even a cell phone that has not been disinfected.

One difference between the two is that (according to initial data) COVID-19 spreads to others faster than flu, with an infected person passing it on to an average of 2.5 additional persons. This is compared with a “spread-rate” of 1.3 persons per each infected individual.

The reason for this increased spread-rate may be because it can spread even before you have symptoms. If you are infected but have no symptoms, a person might be less careful about hygiene, distancing, self-quarantining precautions, etc. On the other hand, the flu is most likely to spread only after three days of symptoms. By that time, they person with the flu knows they have it and can take precautions. 


COVID vs. The Flu: How Severe Are Each of Them

In Quality:

Current estimates show that coronavirus is about 10 times more severe than a standard flu. Data from China show that 20% of COVID-19 patients are serious enough to get sent to the hospital. Contrast that with data from the CDC showing that about 2% of flu sufferers are bad enough to have to go to the hospital. Also, if you do get hospitalized, the recovery time there is just about twice as long as for the standard influenza.


In Quantity:

The percentage of the population that get the flu every year is just over 8% of the population. Another 12% have the flu, but no symptoms. By contrast, recent research from Harvard and the University of Hong Kong predicted that up to half the population of the world could be infected. Of course, this assumes that no vaccine is developed and social distancing controls are not carried out at all.


How Deadly Are They:

In the US population, getting sick from the flu will result in 1 death for every thousand people (0.1%). At this moment, COVID-19 is 10 times more deadly, resulting in the deaths of 10 people per thousand.

There are many contingencies, of course: age, gender, pre-existing chronic conditions, etc., which all affect the death rate. Plus, the situation is very fluid at this very early stage of the pandemic. Once more is known, that number (10X more deadly) may change a bit. Suffice it to say, however, that this virus is far more lethal than a regular seasonal flu.


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