COVID is Much Much Worse than the Flu

I am still getting questions about whether COVID is any worse than the annual flu (even from my family).  The simple answer is YES, IT IS MUCH WORSE!
There are a number of recent posts and on-line articles discussing the reasons and I have posted on this site, previously.
Christopher Ingraham writes on May 2, 2020 in WaPo, based on data from Jeremy Samuel Faust, an emergency room physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School.
“If we measure flu mortality the same way we count COVID-19 deaths, the picture becomes very stark.” Flu deaths are “inflated statistical estimates” and COVID-19 deaths are “actual numbers.” Rather than comparing apples and oranges, one must compare apples to apples.  One must start with the number of directly confirmed flu deaths, which the CDC tracks on an annual basis. In the past seven flu seasons, going back to 2013, that tally fluctuated between 3,448 and 15,620 flu deaths:
Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 2.56.43 PM

Note that these numbers are very different from the CDC’s final official flu death estimates. For 2018-2019, for instance, the 7,172 confirmed flu deaths translated to a final estimate of between 26,339 and 52,664 deaths. That’s because the CDC plugs the confirmed deaths into a model to adjust for what epidemiologists believe is a severe undercount.


Then lets add a bar for this season’s non-adjusted and directly observed COVID-19 deaths, which stand at 63,259:

Screen Shot 2020-05-02 at 2.56.55 PM

There are not likely to be many more flu deaths, as we are past the worst of the flu season. But COVID-19 mortality continues to rise at a rate of about 2,000 deaths per day.

Using an apples-to-apples comparison, we can say that the coronavirus has already killed eight times as many people as the flu in 2019-2020.


The coronavirus, Faust writes, “is not anything like the flu: It is much, much worse.”

Here are some other related articles and stories:

About D. Posnett MD

Emeritus Prof. of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College
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