How does coronavirus compare with the flu?

1. COVID-19 has been compared with the flu. Experts say that’s wrong

The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 appears more deadly and spreads more rapidly.

Even with schools and businesses closed, travel restricted and stay-at-home orders issued around the world, many still wonder if such extremes are needed to fight the novel coronavirus.

Some people, including Donald Trump, president of the United States have said that COVID-19 is not too different from the common flu.

But, according to experts, is COVID-19 actually deadly? Yes.

It is estimated that 35 million Americans were infected last flu season and about 500,000 were hospitalized and approximately 35000 died.

More than 10% of the US population is getting affected by the seasonal flu, but businesses are not closed and people are not asked to stay at home.

What’s different now?

COVID-19 is a novel virus. Although similar to SERS and MERS, it’s wrong to assume that it follows the same path as it belongs to the family of coronavirus. In fact, COVID-19 has already spread far beyond either SERS or MERS.

So, although the seasonal flu (at least to this point), has killed many people around the world, COVID-19 or novel coronavirus appears more deadly and definitely spreads very quickly.

However, experts say COVID-19 is not the seasonal flu. So, exactly how worse is this virus? Consider the chart below, which compares COVID-10 to the flu using the most recent statistics.

Incubation time1-14 days2-14 days
People likely to
infect (on average)
1-1.32-2.5 days
TransmissionRespiratory Drops
(cough, sneeze)
Respiratory Drops
(cough, sneeze)
OnsetUsually Abrupt onsetUsually slower onset
Hospitalization Rate1-2%10-20%
Mortality Rate0.1-0.2%1.5 % (US), 4.5 %(global)numbers are estimates and likely
to change
High-risk PopulationChildren < 5 Years, older adults, and people with chronic conditions (lung disease, heart disease, & uncontrolled diabetes)Older adults, nursing home chronic conditions (lung disease, heart disease, & uncontrolled diabetes)

It’s still unclear exactly how deadly COVID-19 or novel coronavirus is. The death rate may be overestimated because testing has not been ramped up and there could be hundreds of thousands not counted globally as they never show symptoms.

So far, the death rate could have been affected by variables that have nothing to do with the virus itself, including overwhelmed hospitals that contributed to Italy’s fatality rate of about 7%.

For this reason, COVID-19 remains extremely dangerous because so many people show minimal or no symptoms – a phenomenon called silent infection’. This can transmit from person to person because people with this virus don’t know they have it.

In general, when the flu hits, people would lie on the bed and don’t go out. But something we are seeing with novel coronavirus is that because the symptoms are mild for most of the people, they can go out and spread the disease quite easily.

Fortunately for most patients, COVID-19 infections have proven mild, but experts support recent statements that COVID-19 is over 10 times as lethal as the flu.

Although it could quickly change, current statistics show a morbid picture, especially because currently there is no treatment, no vaccine and no one is really sure how this pandemic will unfold.

COVID-19 seems to respond to social distancing and self-isolation but how long can we cope-up with self-isolation, social distancing, and work-from-home? Answer to this remains a puzzle as of now.

Let us hope the human race finds a vaccine and we all get back to our normal lives sooner.