Not The Flu

April 4, 2021
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For weeks, you’ve heard a comparison between the new coronavirus and the flu.

The World Health Organization now says that comparison doesn’t work.

“This virus is not SARS. It is not MERS. And it’s not influenza. It is a unique virus with unique characteristics.”

Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, who listed four ways COVID-19 is different than the seasonal flu.


  • COVID-19 does not spread as easily as the flu, according to data collected *so far.*
  • The World Health Organization says asymptomatic people often spread the flu. For COVID-19, that does not yet *appear* to be the case.
  • Context: Widespread studies looking for COVID-19 among otherwise-healthy people will either prove or disprove this theory.


The World Health Organization raised its fatality rate for COVID-19 to 3.4%.

  • Seasonal flu: fatality rate below 1%.
  • However, COVID data *right now* is based *mostly* on those who are the most sick, and does not include many who may have the illness but have no major symptoms.


  • No vaccines or therapeutic drugs exist for the new coronavirus.
  • The CDC: Flu vaccines “reduce the risk” of influenza by about 50%; vaccinations & exposure help build immunity to the flu that you don’t have to COVID-19.
  • Anti-virals (like Tamiflu) can help lessen flu symptoms but none are available so far for COVID-19.
  • WHO: 20 COVID-19 vaccines in development.


“We don’t even talk about containment for seasonal flu. It’s just not possible. But it’s possible for COVID-19.”

Dr. Tedros, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

This Year’s Flu in America

  • Est. 32 million Americans got the flu.
  • Est. 300,000 hospitalizations.
  • Est. 18,000 deaths.
  • 125 pediatric deaths (children 0-4 years-old): highest rate in the same time period since 2009 swine flu pandemic; highest hospitalization rates for children in the same period since the CDC began reporting 2004-2005.

While the WHO says comparisons between flu and COVID-19 don't work well, systems set up to track the flu may be helpful to collect necessary research on the spread of COVID-19. One caveat? Data for the flu, even for different strains, has been collected for decades; We only have about 90 days of COVID-19 data.




by Jenna Lee,