As usual, when narrowing down a topic for this piece, I sought out examples of human behavior in its most raw and unadulterated form. I went to Facebook and Twitter.
COVID-19 and its effects on society remain the No. 1 topic of the day, each and every day. This holiday season, as we also ramp up what is traditionally flu season, the amateur infectious disease specialists of social media were opining on influenza. From what I could best compile, COVID-19 isn’t so bad, influenza is pretty bad, and even though both diseases are caused by viruses, it’s all got to be another human being’s fault somehow.
According to data from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, influenza typically impacts about 1 billion people around the globe, including anywhere between 9.3 million and 45 million cases in the United States every year. It’s a wide range, because influenza viruses typically mutate and evolve rapidly on their never-ending quest to multiply and conquer.
If you can get beyond the memes, you can actually find some legitimate medical studies that compare and contrast COVID-19 and influenza in 2020. One such study was published in The Lancet on Dec. 17, and was funded through the French National Research Agency. Here is a short piece of its findings:
“Patients with COVID-19 were more frequently obese or overweight, and more frequently had diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidaemia than patients with influenza, whereas those with influenza more frequently had heart failure, chronic respiratory disease, cirrhosis, and deficiency anaemia. Patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 more frequently developed acute respiratory failure, pulmonary embolism, septic shock, or haemorrhagic stroke than patients with influenza, but less frequently developed myocardial infarction or atrial fibrillation. In-hospital mortality was higher in patients with COVID-19 than in patients with influenza,” the researchers wrote in their statement of findings.
In another piece published by Johns Hopkins by Dr. Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, a medical doctor and a master of public health, the general similarities between COVID-19 and the flu are given. Both illnesses cause fever, cough, bodyaches, digestive symptoms, both can result in pneumonia, both can present mild or severe symptoms and both can be fatal “in rare cases.”
Both diseases are treated by addressing symptoms, and antiviral medications may shorten the length of time that a patient suffers from illness.
As of Dec. 21, there have been about 1.7 million deaths from COVID-19 across the globe. According to the Johns Hopkins data, 317,684 of those deaths are in the United States, between Jan. 1 and Dec. 21, 2020.
As of Dec. 21, the worldwide death rate (persons who have died of COVID-19 divided by the total number of reported cases of COVID-19) is 2.2 percent. The death rate for Americans with documented cases of COVID-19 is 1.8 percent.
The U.S. death rate for COVID-19 represents a steep drop from the rate of 4.2 percent on April 15, 2020, according to data from Johns Hopkins. This can be attributed to improvements in testing and treatment fro COVID-19.
“Doctors and scientists are working to estimate the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present, it is thought to be substantially higher (possibly 10 times or more) than that of most strains of the flu,” Margakis writes.
The average death rate for medical patients with influenza computes to about sixth hundredths of a percent (0.06) worldwide. Using maximum case rates and maximum death totals from Johns Hopkins Univesity, we calculate a maximum influenza death rate of 0.135 percent (1.35 tenths of a percent) in the United States, using the high sides of the range.
Using the high side of the American death rate against the low side of the total cases range, i.e. an unlikely yet possibly statistical case, we can calculate a death rate of 0.006 percent (6.5 tenths of a percent).
For whatever it’s worth to you, scientific study and data shows that COVID-19 spreads more readily and is deadlier than common influenza. If our 2020-2021 season ends up being milder than flu seasons of the past, we should be grateful. Actively rooting for the flu in some twisted effort to prove a prideful point about COVID-19 isn’t going to help anyone who contracts either disease, or both diseases. If there are some actions we can all take to reduce the spread of both diseases, we should take those actions.