Influenza versus covid-19: British statisticians come up with important numbers

Important differences

Covid-19 and influenza are equally respiratory diseases, the authors admit. At the same time, they point out that there are important differences between covid-19 and influenza. They add that statistics can help us better understand them.

First, (virus) SARS-CoV-2 is more contagious than seasonal flu, “write Spiegelhalter and Masters. They refer to the oft-cited reproductive number R, which indicates how many people on average infect one person with the virus in their bodies.

In a population where there is no immunity and no measures, such as restrictions on interpersonal contacts, the reproductive number of SARS-CoV-2 is now estimated at 3, statistics show. They add that the number of new virus mutations continues to rise.

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For comparison, experts mention the reproductive number of seasonal flu, which varies from year to year, but oscillates around 1.3. Some types of flu have a higher reproductive number, for the Spanish one, which caused the 1918 pandemic, it is estimated at 1.8, statistics add.

According to the authors of the comment, this explains why the restrictions on interpersonal contacts and other measures taken that can reduce the reproductive number of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from three below one value are enough to almost completely suppress seasonal flu.

Second, the new virus (SARS-CoV-2) is much more deadly, “Spiegelhalter and Masters continue. They acknowledge that the risk of death from new coronavirus infection is very different from the average in different age groups, but note that during the first wave, covid-19 mortality in the developed world was estimated at 1.1%. Thanks to advances in the treatment of the disease, the mortality in the second wave will be lower, but the authors add comments.

For comparison, statisticians mention a data from the World Health Organization, which states that the mortality rate for common flu is usually below 0.1%. The mortality of the common flu is therefore about a tenth against covid-19, point out Masters and Spiegelhalter.

Cause of death

Another aspect is the much higher impact of covid-19 on overall mortality than in the case of seasonal flu, experts say. They refer to figures from England, where the flu contributes an average of about 10,000 deaths a year.

These numbers vary significantly from year to year, statistics admit. They point out that in the winter of 2018/2019 it was about 4 thousand deaths, but a year earlier, during an extremely harsh winter, up to 22 thousand deaths.

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The figures do not come from death certificates, as in England, on average, only about 800 deaths a year are listed as the leading cause of death by influenza virus infection, experts point out. They explain that these are models for estimating the number of victims in individual winters based on the cold weather.

By contrast, England has reported more than 100,000 SARS-CoV-2 deaths since the start of the pandemic last year, with more than half – 55,000 – since last September, according to statistics. They note that in 90% of these cases, covid-19 is cited as the leading cause of death.

We still have a lot to learn about the new coronavirus, but it is certainly worse than seasonal flu, “conclude Spiegelhalter and Masters.

Source: EuroZprá by

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