Study shows COVID-19 more deadly than flu

Dec. 18, 2020

New research – a deep dive into federal data by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and VA St. Louis Health Care System – reveals just how much deadlier COVID-19 is than the seasonal flu, according to a press release.

Among hospitalized patients, COVID-19 was associated with an increased need for ventilators, more admissions into intensive care units (ICUs), longer hospital stays and nearly five times the risk of death than faced by those with the flu.

And although both illnesses attack the lungs, the analysis showed COVID-19 also can damage other organs. It revealed that COVID-19 was associated with a higher risk of complications, such as acute kidney and liver damage, as well as heart disorders, stroke, severe septic shock, low blood pressure, excessive blood clotting and new-onset diabetes.

The findings are published online in the journal The BMJ.

For the study, the researchers analyzed de-identified medical records in a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The researchers examined information involving 3,641 patients hospitalized in the U.S with COVID-19 at some point from February 1 through June 17, as well as 12,676 patients hospitalized with the flu at some point from January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2019. The average age of patients with either COVID-19 or the flu was 69.

Among patients hospitalized for either COVID-19 or the flu, those infected with the novel coronavirus were nearly five times more likely to die than those with influenza. Of the 12,676 patients with flu, 674 (5.3 percent) died, and of 3,641 patients with COVID-19, 676 (18.5 percent) died.

In addition, on average, the COVID-19 patients were four times more likely to require breathing machines and almost 2.5 times more likely to be treated in the ICU. Also, COVID-19 patients were more likely to be hospitalized longer, an average of three extra days.

One of the biggest surprises in the study was the finding of a higher risk of developing diabetes among COVID-19 patients than flu patients – nine more cases per 100 people.

The researchers also found that, when compared with the flu, COVID-19 was associated with a higher risk of acute kidney damage and severe sepsis shock – both at six more cases on average per 100 hospitalized patients.

Compared with flu patients, people with COVID-19 also required more medications to treat severely low blood pressure, a condition that can lead to organ damage and death – 11.5 more people per 100 people.

Visit Washington University in St. Louis for more news