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COVID-19 virus killing 20 times more people per week than flu, new paper says

Researchers have found that the COVID-19 virus was killing 20 times more people per week than the flu in the U.S, a report published in Live Science has revealed. The authors from Harvard Medical School and Emory University School of Medicine published the paper on May 14 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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New Delhi Updated on: May 25, 2020 18:55 IST
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Researchers have found that the COVID-19 virus was killing 20 times more people per week than the flu in the U.S, a report published in Live Science has revealed. The authors from Harvard Medical School and Emory University School of Medicine published the paper on May 14 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The virus has often been compared with the flu with people pointing out that influenza causes tens of thousands of deaths every year in the U.S. alone. During the current flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there were up to 62,000 flu deaths in the U.S. from October 2019 through April 2020. 

The report said this may appear similar to the toll of COVID-19 at the very first glance. The virus, as of early May, had claimed about 65,000 lives in the U.S. As on May 13, the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. was more than 82,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

The report, however, mentioned that the comparison appeared to be flawed because the CDC estimates of flu deaths are estimates rather than raw numbers. It said that the CDC didn't know the exact number of people who fall sick or die from the flu each year in the U.S. It is believed that the number is estimated on the basis of data collected on flu hospitalizations through surveillance in 13 states, while the COVID-19 deaths were not estimates but actual counts of people who died of the virus. The authors said that the comparison drawn here was like comparing apples to oranges. 

For the new study, the researchers considered actual deaths caused by flu per week and thereby compared them with COVID-19 deaths. Data from death certificates, during the deadliest week of flu season over the last several years, was fetched. The number of U.S. deaths due to flu ranged from 351 during the 2015 to 2016 flu season to 1,626 during the 2017 to 2018 flu season, the authors stated. They said that the average number of flu deaths during the week of peak fly mortality in recent seasons, from 2013 to 2020, stood at 752. 

On the other hand, there were 15,455 deaths reported due to the coronavirus in the U.S during the week ending April 21, which saw the highest weekly death toll during the pandemic so far. Elaborating further, the report said this would mean that the number of coronavirus deaths for the week ending April 21 was about 10-to-40 fold higher than the number of influenza deaths for the most lethal week of the past seven flu seasons. "That peak COVID-19 weekly death count is about 20 times higher than the average weekly peak flu death count," the authors were quoted as saying. 

The authors, however, accepted that their analysis had some limitations. They said that the number of coronavirus deaths may be undercounted because of limitations with testing for SARS-CoV-2 and false-negative test results. The authors also pointed out that adult flu deaths are not required to be reported to public health authorities in the way that COVID-19 deaths are, which means that the flu deaths could also have been undercounted. 

Concluding the study, the authors stated: "Our analysis suggests that comparisons between SARS-CoV-2 mortality and seasonal influenza mortality must be made using an apples-to-apples comparison, not an apples-to-oranges comparison. Doing so better demonstrates the true threat to public health from COVID-19."

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