SAQ: COVID-19 vs. seasonal flu: Why novel coronavirus is much worse

There are a few big questions people keep asking about the novel coronavirus pandemic: how similar is it to the seasonal flu and what are the differences? Health experts know that it is much worse, here’s why.

Some of the most common symptoms of the new virus, like a fever and dry cough, are similar to the seasonal flu, but there are major differences in what COVID-19 does to a person’s body and those around them, as well as the mortality rate.

The bottom line, before we get to specifics: COVID-19 spreads wider than the flu, has a mortality rate higher than the flu and can be spread by an asymptomatic carrier for much longer than the flu. Without treatments, vaccines or immunity, experts say the few options for humans to fight back is social distancing to mitigate the spread and reduce the overcrowding of hospitals, which can have catastrophic effects, as seen in Italy.

According to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and National Center for Biotechnology Information, a person with COVID-19 will, on average, infect 2 to 2.5 other people. For the seasonal flu, it’s 1.3 people.

Another major difference is the incubation time, which is the time from first exposure to first symptoms.

For the seasonal flu, the incubation time is one to four days, with most people showing symptoms in about two days. For people infected with COVID-19, the virus can remain in a person’s body for up to 14 days before they experience any symptoms.

Five days has been shown to be the median, leaving people at risk to go in public without knowing they are infected.

The next two stats are key: the first, the rate of how many people are hospitalized.

The latest CDC numbers show the hospitalization rate is 20.7 percent for people infected with COVID-19 compared to just 2 percent for the flu.

The second stat: the fatality rate for confirmed cases.

According to the CDC, 1 to 3.4 percent of people infected with the novel coronavirus die. That’s compared to 0.1 percent or less for someone with the flu.

The virus has also proven exponentially deadlier for elderly people and those over 80 years old.

The latest CDC numbers below show the case fatality rate of adults over 85 is 10.4 to 27.3 percent.

Younger age groups, ages 20-64, are also seeing a case fatality rate of 0.2 to 2.6, as shown from the CDC chart below.

These numbers are subject to change as more information is released on testing.

(CDC study on COVID-19 cases as of March 16, 2020.)

This is not meant to downplay the flu, which kills thousands of people every year in the United States, but meant more to cut through the noise about the serious dangers

COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new virus, stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The disease first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China, but spread around the world in early 2020, causing the World Health Organization to declare a pandemic in March.

More Answers: SAQ: Your coronavirus questions answered

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About the Author

RJ Marquez is the traffic anchor/reporter for KSAT’s Good Morning San Antonio. He also fills in as a news anchor and has covered stories from breaking news and Fiesta to Spurs championships and high school sports. RJ started at KSAT in 2010. He is proud to serve our viewers and be a part of the culture and community that makes San Antonio great.

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