COVID-19 Coronavirus vs. Flu: What’s the Difference?

COVID-19 Coronavirus vs. Flu: What's the Difference?

Living via the COVID-19 pandemic is hard. TIME’s guidance column is right here to assist. Trying to make a decision if that supper celebration is secure to go to? Fighting via your quarantine exhaustion? Our wellness press reporters will certainly get in touch with professionals that can assist discover a risk-free and also useful remedy. Send us your pandemic problems at, and also we will certainly pick some to address in a column on

Today, Judy Jones from Missouri asks:

To assistance comprehend the distinctions in between COVID-19 and also influenza, I spoke with a couple of professionals on both conditions, consisting of Andy Pekosz—teacher of molecular microbiology and also immunology at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health— that has actually long advised individuals regarding the risks of flu. Amid the pandemic, he states that listening to individuals contrast the influenza to COVID-19 “borders on making me incredibly angry.”

“We have dealt with patients who are teenagers, we’ve dealt with patients who are healthy adults who have come in with very, very serious disease,” states Pekosz. “Our hospital staff is working like crazy to keep up with the demand of patients that are coming in. It’s all around us, the effects of this disease…there are thousands of sick people every day that are coming into our hospitals. And that doesn’t happen with flu.”

Although break outs as current as the 2009 H1N1 pandemic have actually asserted thousands of countless lives, it’s been greater than a century given that the flu infection absolutely wrecked mankind; the 1918 flu pandemic eliminated an approximated 50 million individuals internationally and also 675,000 in the United States. Humans have actually given that developed defenses versus the influenza: researchers have actually developed reliable vaccinations versus and also therapies, while our bodies have actually created all-natural resistance after being continuously revealed to it. While various stress of flu infection normally spreads out yearly, resistance from previous direct exposure to various other stress, in addition to inoculation, can still use defense. (Still, flu has actually barely been dominated; influenza vaccinations are just 40% to 60% reliable at lowering the danger of disease, and also Pekosz advises there’s constantly a possibility that an especially infective flu stress might present a danger just like SARS-CoV-2, the infection that creates COVID-19, has.)

But contrasted to our common seasonal flus, what makes SARS-CoV-2 unsafe is that it’s an all new infection. When it initially began spreading out around the globe, none of our body immune systems had experience with it, and also it took researchers time to create reliable examinations for it, not to mention therapy approaches and also the vaccinations that have actually simply lately started presenting. Even months right into the pandemic, reasonably couple of individuals have COVID-19 antibodies—less than 10% of individuals in locations throughout the U.S. had antibodies since September, per a CDC research released Nov. 24.

What truly establishes COVID-19 besides the seasonal influenza is its casualty. So much, the unique coronavirus has actually eliminated 1.6 million individuals worldwide, consisting of greater than 300,000 Americans. In truth, COVID-19 has actually been accountable for in between regarding 7% and also 23% of all once a week U.S. fatalities given that the pandemic started, while the influenza hasn’t split 4% in the last couple of years, based upon CDC numbers:

As you can see in the graph above, the share of U.S. fatalities because of COVID-19 has yet to get to the peak established previously in the pandemic, when researchers and also physicians were still clambering to comprehend and also deal with the illness, though it’s obtaining perilously close as everyday instances are much surpassing the preliminary waves. Thankfully, that understanding has actually featured time, and also we currently have therapies like Remdesivir for serious instances, physicians have actually reconsidered their strategy to dealing with individuals, and also one vaccination has actually been accredited for emergency situation usage in the U.S., with more probable en route.

Still, as the pandemic worsens, a lot more individuals are ending up in the medical facility with the coronavirus than normally finish with the influenza. The CDC offers similar a hospital stay numbers for both infections based upon a big monitoring network of prone locations. The initial rise in COVID-19-related hospital stays, in the springtime, was about equivalent to the especially poor 2017-18 influenza period, yet current rises have actually gone beyond that by a significant margin, as you can see in the graph below.

When medical facilities end up being crowded with COVID-19 individuals—in addition to those ill with various other diseases—that can place significant stress on prone and also tired healthcare employees and also the medical facility system a lot more generally, possibly intensifying person end results. “At a certain point, it becomes very difficult to provide the level and quality of care that you want to provide for your patients,” states Dr. Paul Thottingal, nationwide lead for transmittable illness for Kaiser Permanente.

Finally, also some individuals that have “recovered” from their preliminary round with COVID-19 are enduring lasting, frequently devastating results that don’t typically present with flu patients. Studies have found that about 10% of COVID-19 patients are thought to develop what’s known as “long COVID,” causing them to suffer symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue and lost of taste and smell. This can affect even people who were just mildly sick with the disease, and those who are young and otherwise healthy. Since COVID-19 is still so new, scientists still aren’t sure just how long these symptoms could last—or whether they could become permanent.

The best approach, for now, remains following public-health guidance like mask wearing and social distancing—which, thankfully, should help curb the seasonal flu, too. It’s looking increasingly like COVID-19 will one day be just as preventable as the flu, if not more so—but mass vaccination is only just beginning, so we’re in for a few more months of pandemic life. “There is no silver bullet for managing critical [COVID-19] illness,” says Thottingal. “The silver bullet is actually preventing the infection in the first place.”

—With reporting from Chris Wilson

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