COVID-19 causes more serious illness than seasonal flu: study

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TORONTO – A growing body of evidence shows that COVID-19 causes more severe outcomes than seasonal flu, resulting in a much higher death rate in hospitalized patients.
A recently published study based on French national data comparing patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 to those admitted with seasonal flu shows that a greater proportion of COVID-19 patients have serious illness requiring care intensive, with a death rate nearly three times higher.

The study compared data from 89,530 patients hospitalized for COVID-19 between March and April with data from 45,819 patients hospitalized for seasonal flu between December 2018 and February 2019.

According to the data, 16.3% of patients with COVID-19 were admitted to intensive care, compared to 10.8% of patients with influenza. The average stay in intensive care with COVID-19 was almost twice as long at 15 days, compared to eight days for people with the flu.

COVID-19 patients were also twice as likely as patients with the flu to require mechanical ventilation during their hospital stay. More than one in four COVID-19 patients have developed acute respiratory failure, in which the lungs are unable to get enough oxygen into the body, compared to less than one in five people with the flu.

Nearly twice as many people were hospitalized for COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic in France than for influenza at the height of the 2018/2019 flu season.

The study authors note that the difference in hospitalization rates may be due in part to existing immunity to influenza in the population due to a previous infection or vaccination. Because COVID-19 is a new virus, immunity levels are presumed to be low.

But researchers say their findings reinforce the importance of preventing the spread of the two diseases as countries around the world grapple with a second wave of COVID-19 infections that overlap with the onset of seasonal flu. .

“Our study is the most important to date to compare the two diseases and confirms that COVID-19 is much more serious than the flu”, directs the study Catherine Quantin, of the Dijon University Hospital and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) said in a press release.

“The finding that the death rate from COVID-19 was three times higher than that of seasonal flu is particularly striking when we recall that the 2018/2019 flu season was the worst in the last five years in France in terms of number of deaths.

The study also looked at the rate of children hospitalized with the two viruses. Fewer children under 18 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to the flu. However, among people aged five and under, a greater proportion of patients with COVID-19 need intensive care support than those with the flu.

But the study, funded by the French National Research Agency, mentions several limitations.

In particular, influenza testing practices were likely to vary from hospital to hospital, while testing for COVID-19 would have been more common due to the pandemic. According to the authors, this may explain the increase in the number of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 compared to seasonal flu.

Still, the authors say the largest study of its kind shows just how important it is to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Taken together, our results clearly indicate that COVID-19 is much more serious than seasonal flu,” study author Dr Pascale Tubert-Bitter said in a press release.

“At a time when no treatment has been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness in patients with COVID-19, this study underscores the importance of all physical prevention measures and underlines the importance of effective vaccines.

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