A: They are VERY different. In short – COVID-19 is more deadly, more people are susceptible to it, we have fewer treatments, and even “mild” bouts can leave long-term symptoms.
To address the elephant in the room: **COVID-19 is MUCH deadlier than the flu.** In fact, since December 2019, COVID-19 has killed more people in the U.S. than influenza has in the past 5 years combined, as experts from McKinsey & Company point out in the link below. Of course, the burden of COVID-19 is in ADDITION to all the other causes of death around the world, including continuing deaths caused by the flu. For more on exactly how experts calculate the infection fatality rate (IFR) for a disease, check out the Dear Pandemic post linked below.
Here are some of the other key differences, pointed out in a recent overview from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
🛡 IMMUNITY: More people are susceptible to COVID-19 than the flu, because there is so little preexisting immunity to this new virus. Some of us already have some immunity to the flu – whether through our yearly flu shot or by getting it in the past – which helps to keep the flu from running through our population like we’re seeing with COVID-19.
💊 TREATMENTS: We have been facing the flu for many years, and have developed some therapeutic options to help folks who get sick. With COVID-19, scientists are still working hard to validate new therapies, but we don’t have anything widespread or reliable enough to use on a large scale for people who are sick with COVID-19, especially those who aren’t sick enough to be hospitalized, but still need help recovering at home.
⏳ LONG-TERM EFFECTS: Not only does a “mild” COVID illness feel pretty terrible, but it can also cause lingering symptoms for weeks and even months. This isn’t usually the case for the flu. It’s so important to remember that even COVID-19 infections that don’t land you in the hospital could disrupt your daily activities for much, much longer than an illness like the flu.
The flu isn’t a walk in the park, but it does not pose as much danger as COVID-19. Until we can reach new milestones in widely available therapies and distribute effective vaccines for COVID-19, we need to double down on the preventive measures that we know work – wearing masks, keeping physical distance, and avoiding sharing indoor air with people outside our households.
And, here’s your extra friendly reminder to GET YOUR FLU SHOT, because even though it’s rare to get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, we can all do our part to reduce our burdens on a straining healthcare system during the winter months – and that means avoiding the flu, too!
Stay safe. Stay sane,
Those Nerdy Girls
McKinsey & Company COVID-19 Briefing Materials (check out Slide 13 for data on COVID-19 deaths vs. flu deaths)