Is the Flu as Bad as COVID?

It seems the idea that COVID is only as bad as the Flu is becoming popular again. Is this true? Let us look at some numbers.

First, we’ll look at the Flu statistics from the CDC:

Covid v Flu - CDC

I’ll steelman the argument and use the worst Flu season (2017-2018) and use the upper bound on the UI (95,000 deaths and 58,000,000 cases). In fact, I’ll even round up to 100,000 deaths and 60,000,000 cases. This gives us a death rate of 0.17% for the Flu of the particularly bad Flu season of 2017-2018. For COVID, I’ll use CDC data again:

Covid v Flu - CDC 2

Rounding the numbers to 7,400,000 cases and 200,000 deaths gives us a death rate of 2.7% which, last time I checked, is greater than 0.17%

Also, lets take into consideration the fact that, as half-assed as it may be, we have been taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 over the past 7 months that the pandemic has been raging, whereas no such measures are taken for the yearly Flu.

Lets also look at the costs. One study reports that the cost of treating COVID when in the hospital is:

Nationally, the median charge amount for hospitalization of a COVID-19 patient ranged from $34,662 for the 23-30 age group to $45,683 for the 51-60 age group. The median estimated allowed amounts ranged from $17,094 for people over 70 years of age to $24,012 for people aged 51-60 years

Meanwhile, a 2012 study for children going to the hospital for the Flue found:

Data were obtained from 67 inpatients, 121 ED [Emergency Department] patients and 92 outpatients with laboratory-confirmed influenza. Caregivers of hospitalized children missed an average of 73 work hours (estimated cost $1456); caregivers of children seen in the ED and outpatient clinics missed 19 ($383) and 11 work hours ($222), respectively. Average OOP [out of pocket] expenses were $178, $125 and $52 for inpatients, ED-patients and outpatients, respectively. OOP and indirect costs were similar between those with and without high risk conditions (p > 0.10). Medical costs totaled $3990 for inpatients and $730 for ED-patients.

I’m not advocating for one policy or another as regards the handling of COVID in the U.S., but I think it is always best to fact check false claims.

Main image: data showing possible third wave approaching.

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