WASHINGTON D.C., DC — With the coronavirus dominating headlines at a time the flu season is typically coming to an end, many are wondering how the two are comparing.
Since January, more than 61,000 people have died in the United States after contracting COVID-19, and more than a million cases have been confirmed, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The CDC estimates that from Oct. 1, 2019, through April 4, 2020, there have been 39-to-56 million flu illnesses and 24,000-to-62,000 flu deaths.
"In a short period of time [coronavirus] already surpassed the number of deaths of flu," Dr.Linda Nabha, a D.C.-based infectious disease specialist, said. "If you look at the actual numbers of deaths, in just a short period of time we started seeing these deaths relate to COVID in 2020 in the United States, and we now have an estimated number of deaths over 60,000. That is in comparison to the flu, where the range is anywhere between 20,000 and 60,000 deaths between the beginning of October to the end of April."
The World Health Organization's director-general has said that the death rate of COVID-19 is much higher than the death rate for the seasonal flu.
“Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected,” information provided by the World Health Organization says. WHO details the similarities between COVID and Influenza here.
"They're both viruses and they both can be deadly,” Nabha said. “The flu is seasonal. We have a vaccine against the flu. We have treatment for the flu. We know, in general, how the flu behaves. We're still learning about COVID-19."
When it comes to tracking the viruses, Nabha said it’s difficult to track both of them. She said the flu is not a reportable disease, so until the end of flu season there are only estimates. With COVID-19, she said testing has been a big issue and thousands of cases have gone untested.
Nabha also said there is also a large difference between the two viruses, and comparing them would be like comparing apples to oranges.
“COVID behaves very differently than the flu. We're seeing things like strokes in younger patients,” Nabha said. “We're seeing things like kidney failure, heart attacks related to COVID-19, so it is certainly behaving very differently than what we're seeing with influenza.”
In Virginia, the Department of Health has received 2,695 reports of pneumonia and flu-associated deaths this flu season. They have the flu and pneumonia in one category, which they say is typical. D.C. tracks it the same way.
Maryland has flu deaths in one category and has reported 62 flu-associated deaths this season, including pediatric deaths.
D.C. doesn't have flu-related deaths listed in its weekly flu report, but DC Health's flu tracking site said the number of deaths attributed to pneumonia and flu is higher this year primarily because of COVID-19, and not the flu.