UPDATED! Coronavirus Versus Influenza: Why SARS-CoV-2 is Not Just “the Flu” (With Sources)

Many people are saying that we should be paying attention to the regular seasonal influenza, which kills so many more people than the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has. U.S. Presdient Donald Trump, in his most recent news conference, kept saying “It’s the flu”.

However, as this poster from the Coronavirus subReddit explains in detail (complete with sources), SARS-CoV-2 is not just “the flu”:

  1. The virulence (R0) of SARS-CoV-2 is estimated between 1.4-6.49, with a mean estimate of 3.28 (source) . This mean estimate is much higher than the seasonal flu, which has an R0 of 1.3 (source) . What this means is that SARS-CoV-2 spreads significantly faster than the seasonal flu.
  2. The Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of SARS-CoV-2 is at least 2-3% (source) . This is 20-30 times higher than the CFR of the season flu, which is around .1% (source).
  3. SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted without the infected showing any symptoms (source) . This makes it much more difficult to control.
  4. Roughly 20% of SARS-CoV-2 infections result in serious symptoms that require medical intervention (source) . This is more than 10 times the hospitalization rate of the seasonal flu (source).
  5. Symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 can persist over a month (source) compared to the seasonal flu where symptoms typically tend to clear after five days (source) .
  6. There is no vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 (source), whereas people regularly get annual flu shots.
  7. There is no herd immunity for SARS-CoV-2 which means that it can theoretically infect the entire population. See, for example, a Korean psychiatric department where the virus infected 99/102 people.

Now, consider the multiplicative effect that all of these attributes have for the virus. Compared to the seasonal flu, SARS-CoV-2 (1) spreads faster; (2) kills far more; (3) is harder to control; (4) requires use of far more medical resources; (5) for far longer a period of time; (6) has no effective treatment; and (7) can infect entire populations at the same time.

These factors mean that SARS-CoV-2, if left unchecked, is far more likely to overwhelm a country’s medical infrastructure. Additionally, when medical infrastructure is overwhelmed, the CFR will skyrocket because we know that 20% of cases require medical intervention.

To summarize, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is potentially devastating if containment measures fail. This is far worse than the seasonal flu. This is why governments around the world are pulling out all the stops in order to try and contain outbreaks of COVID-19 disease caused by this coronavirus.

So the next time somebody who is ill-informed tries to argue with you that this is “just the flu”, please share this information with them.

Thank you to the person who originally compiled this information, u/Hafomeng, and posted it to the r/Coronavirus community on Reddit!

Coronavirus Versus Influenza (infographic from the Boston Herald)

UPDATE 2:25 p.m.: The Guardian newspaper reports today:

Many individuals who get coronavirus will experience nothing worse than seasonal flu symptoms, but the overall profile of the disease, including its mortality rate, looks more serious. At the start of an outbreak the apparent mortality rate can be an overestimate if a lot of mild cases are being missed. But this week, a WHO expert suggested that this has not been the case with COVID-19. Bruce Aylward, who led an international mission to China to learn about the virus and the country’s response, said the evidence did not suggest that we were only seeing the tip of the iceberg. If borne out by further testing, this could mean that current estimates of a roughly 1% fatality rate are accurate. This would make COVID-19 about 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, which is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year globally.

UPDATE 4:16 p.m.: The credible, authoritative Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has just published an up-to-date summary of everything we know so far about SARS-CoV-2: COVID-19—New Insights on a Rapidly Changing Epidemic.

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