Here’s what’s wrong with calling coronavirus ‘far less lethal’ than flu


After getting discharged from the hospital, US President Donald Trump tweeted, “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000 and despite the vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!” The tweet was tagged with a public notice shortly thereafter.

The Twitter notice stated, “This tweet violated the Twitter rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the tweet to remain accessible.” Let’s understand what was wrong with the tweet.

Why is calling COVID ‘less lethal than flu’ a misleading health claim
There have been 105K COVID deaths in India alone, out of the total 1.05 million deaths worldwide. The biggest challenge with SARS-CoV-2 is that it is a completely new virus and researchers are still working on understanding the virus and its possible mutations.

There is still not complete surety on how the novel coronavirus spreads and infects, how much damage it can cause to the body, and how the immune system can be built to fight the virus. Every week, we get a new piece of information, which is quite often retracted, citing lack of evidence or misquotation. We have seen this in case of news about COVID being an airborne virus. Additionally, there is contradicting data available on how long it can stay on surfaces – with the latest report claiming it can stay on the skin for up to 9 hours.

As for seasonal flu, there is a lot known about the flu virus and health experts are well equipped to treat people in the most effective manner. A lead researcher told a leading international health website, ” We have more experience with the complications of flu — such as cardiac problems and bacterial pneumonias that happen after you get the flu — but with COVID-19, every treatment is essentially a trial run.”

What’s worse, you ask? COVID has a higher transmission rate. As per the data available, one person with coronavirus can transmit it to 2 to 2.5 other people, while in case of flu, an infected person can transmit it to 0.9 to 2.1 other people.

Now with the vaccine still months away, doctors and scientists are still working on understanding the mortality of the virus. Rough estimates suggest that it is 10 times or possibly much higher than most strains of the flu virus.

The similarity between COVID and Flu

While some symptoms of coronavirus such as fever, cough and body ache may be similar to the flu, both the illnesses are caused by different viruses. Talking about similarities, they both spread through droplets that get transferred from a sick person to those around them. Interestingly, both can be prevented if the sick person wears a mask and follows good hygiene practices.

We don’t have a treatment for either flu or coronavirus. There are annual flu shots that are taken during season change but the symptoms are managed pretty much with the use of antiviral medications.

The difference

Coronavirus is caused by a comparatively new 2019 coronavirus, dubbed SARS-CoV-2, while flu is caused by different strains of influenza viruses.

There is a possibility of a COVID infected person to not feel sick or display any of the symptoms, yet they can very much transmit the illness to others. Most common symptoms of COVID are loss of smell and taste, which isn’t the case with flu.

Scientists and researchers are still studying antiviral medications and other therapies to see how they can effectively shorten the duration and severity of coronavirus related illness. Several companies are aggressively working towards formulating an effective vaccine to control the massive spread of COVID.

On the other hand, the flu has some tried and tested oral antiviral medications as well as a vaccine. While the vaccine may not be fool proof, it still helps in managing the severity and duration of the flu.

While it is true that there are many fatalities that happen due to the flu, COVID has reported a high number of deaths in a short period of time. So when we compare the duration of the virus with the deaths, COVID surely shows more worrying stats.

There is also speculation that recurring waves may make matters worse up until 2022. That makes it extremely important for us to take the virus seriously and carry out all possible measures to control the spread of the virus. Wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and respiratory hygiene is the need of the hour and something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.


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