By Courtney Bibo March 26, 2020
How Does Coronavirus (Covid-19) and Influenza (flu) Compare?
What’s the difference between Coronavirus (Covid-19) and influenza? I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like, “Oh please. This is no different than the flu!” Are they accurate? Let’s take a look at the new Coronavirus, (also called Covid-19) and the flu (which is also called “influenza”.)
Both can cause upper and lower respiratory illnesses. For starters, the flu has been around for a very long time. We know what to expect with it. Because we’ve researched it extensively, we know when we’ll start seeing more cases of it, and we know when those cases will start to decrease. In other words, it’s predictable. The healthcare field can properly prepare for “flu season”. We know when it starts, we know the best time to get a vaccine*, and we have a good idea when it will start to die off.
Did you catch that we have a vaccine for it? Yeah! We prepare every year with a vaccine to help combat influenza! That’s a tremendous help for us to decrease the death rate.
We also know that the flu virus only lives for about 2-8 hours on surfaces (CDC, 2018). The virus will be dead by the time class or work starts the next day. In other words, there is no reason to do major disinfecting after kids leave the classroom or employees leave the office.
Ok, so what about Coronavirus? First off, let me explain something that I know can be confusing. The family of viruses that this new Coronavirus belongs to, is called, “Coronavirus”. There are several different strains of it. The particular strain that we are all referring to currently is called, “SARS-Coronavirus-2”. This strain causes an illness called, “Covid-19”.
This strain of virus is brand new. We know very little about it. To put it another way, we fear the unknown.
We only recently discovered that the virus can live up to 4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard (think about packages we get delivered!) and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel (National Institutes of Health, 2020). That’s problematic because that means when we leave work or school, the virus can still infect us when we come back the next day.
How Do Symptoms Compare?
Flu symptoms can range from mild to severe and even death. The flu is a serious respiratory illness. Covid-19, however, is new so we don’t know much about it. It seems there is a range, as well, though. Some people report very mild symptoms and others are dying from it.
Typical symptoms for the flu include a fever, sore throat, aches, and headache, among others (CDC, 2019). Common symptoms for Covid-19 seem to include fever, cough, and shortness of breath (difficulty breathing) (CDC, 2020). However, some people have reported that they tested positive and didn’t even know they had it. Or, in other cases, people reported very mild symptoms.
There seems to be a link between people with lung disease (COPD, asthma), heart disease, and diabetes and developing serious complications including death from Covid-19.
The amount of deaths estimated from the seasonal flu this year in the United States is 23,000-59,000 (CDC, 2020). (This isn’t an actual number, as that would be impossible to obtain. This is because some influenza cases are not identified and sometimes there are delays in reporting. The CDC has a formula they use to estimate.) The amount of deaths, worldwide, from Covid-19, as of March 26, 2020, is 23,970 (Johns Hopkins, 2020). This is an actual number.
So What Does All of This Mean?
There is a lot yet to learn about this particular strain of Coronavirus that is causing Covid-19. We are currently working on a treatment and a vaccine. Because we don’t have either of these, it makes the current situation very disturbing. Although influenza is a serious illness that we see every year, we know a lot about it, unlike Coronavirus (Covid-19).
*The best time to get a vaccine for influenza is no later than the second week of October. I tell myself “October 14” is the goal every year to receive one. You can learn more about why that is the best time to get a flu vaccine here.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Guidance for school administrators to help reduce the spread of seasonal influenza in K-12 schools. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/school/guidance.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (30, December 2019). Cold versus flu. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/coldflu.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (20, March 2020). Symptoms of Coronavirus. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html
Johns Hopkins. (26, March 2020). Coronavirus Covid-19 global cases by The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkinns. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
National Institutes of Health. (17, March 2020). New coronavirus stable for hours on surfaces. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/new-coronavirus-stable-hours-surfaces