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COVID-19 Causes 3 Times More Deaths Than Seasonal Flu

SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus attached to the cilia of human respiratory epithelial cells.© Manuel Rosa-Calatrava, INSERM ; Olivier Terrier, CNRS ; Andrés Pizzorno, Signia Therapeutics ; Elisabeth Errazuriz-Cerda UCBL1 CIQLE. VirPath (Centre International de Recherche en Infectiologie U1111 Inserm – UMR 5308 CNRS – ENS Lyon – UCBL1). Colorized par Noa Rosa C.


A study by Inserm and Dijon University Hospital based on French nationwide data on around 130,000 patients hospitalized for either COVID-19 or seasonal influenza shows that the mortality rate among those admitted for COVID is three times higher than that of seasonal influenza. These findings have been published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine

This study uses data from the French national administrative database (medicalized information system program – PMSI), which contains information on all patients admitted to public and private hospitals in France, such as the reasons for their admission and the treatment they received. The researchers compared the admissions for COVID-19 (between March 1 and April 30, 2020) with those for seasonal influenza (between December 1, 2018 and February 28, 2019).


The results reveal:








The researchers point out that their study has several limitations. In particular, testing practices for influenza are likely to be highly variable across hospitals, whereas practices for COVID-19 may be more standardized. This may partly explain the increased number of admissions for COVID-19 compared to seasonal influenza. In addition, the difference in hospitalization rates may be partly due to existing immunity to influenza in the population, either from previous infection or vaccination.

Nevertheless, the conclusions of this research confirm the importance of measures to prevent the spread of both diseases. Measures that are particularly relevant at a time when several countries are preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic to continue in parallel with seasonal influenza outbreaks during the winter months.

“This study is the largest to date comparing the two diseases and confirms that COVID-19 is much more serious than influenza. The finding that the COVID-19 death rate was three times higher than that of seasonal influenza is particularly striking when one recalls that in the last five years the 2018/2019 influenza season has been the worst in France in terms of number of deaths,” declares Catherine Quantin, researcher at Inserm and Professor at Dijon University Hospital.

“Taken together, these findings clearly indicate that COVID-19 is much more severe than seasonal flu. While no treatment has yet been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness in COVID-19 patients, this study underlines the importance of the various prevention measures (barrier measures) and highlights the need for access to effective vaccines,” concludes Pascale Tubert-Bitter, research director at Inserm.