Despite its 'nothingburger' reputation, COVID-19 remains deadlier than the flu

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Since nan earliest days of nan pandemic, wellness officials person gauged nan threat of COVID-19 by comparing it to nan flu.

At first, it wasn’t moreover close. People hospitalized successful 2020 pinch nan then-novel respiratory illness were 5 times much apt to dice of their unwellness than were patients who had been hospitalized pinch influenza during nan preceding flu seasons.

Immunity from vaccines and past coronavirus infections has helped tame COVID-19 to nan constituent that erstwhile researchers compared nan mortality rates of hospitalized COVID-19 and seasonal influenza patients during nan tallness of nan 2022-23 flu season, they recovered that nan pandemic illness was only 61% much apt to consequence successful death.

Now nan aforesaid researchers person analyzed information for nan the autumn and wintertime of 2023 and 2024. Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, head of nan Clinical Epidemiology Center astatine nan VA St. Louis Health Care System, and his colleagues expected to find that nan 2 respiratory diseases had yet equalized.

“There’s a communicative retired location that the pandemic is over, that it’s a nothingburger,” Al-Aly said. “We came into this reasoning we would do this rematch and find it would beryllium for illustration nan flu from now on.”

The VA squad examined physics wellness records of patients treated successful Veterans Affairs hospitals successful each 50 states betwixt Oct. 1 and March 27. They zeroed successful connected patients who were admitted because they had fevers, shortness of activity aliases different symptoms owed to either COVID-19 aliases influenza. (People who were admitted for different reason, specified arsenic a bosom attack, and were past recovered to person a coronavirus infection weren’t included successful nan analysis.)

The COVID-19 patients were a small older, connected average, than nan flu patients (73.9 versus 70.2 years old), and they were little apt to beryllium existent aliases erstwhile smokers. They were besides much apt to person received astatine slightest 3 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and little apt to person shunned nan shots altogether.

Yet aft Al-Aly and his colleagues accounted for these differences and a big of different factors, they recovered that 5.7% of nan COVID-19 patients died of their disease, compared pinch 4.2% of nan influenza patients.

In different words, nan consequence of decease from COVID-19 was still 35% greater than it was for nan flu. The findings were published Wednesday successful nan Journal of nan American Medical Assn.

“There is undeniably an belief retired location that [COVID-19] is nary longer a awesome threat to quality health,” Al-Aly said. “I deliberation it’s mostly driven by sentiment and an affectional itch to move beyond nan pandemic, to put it each down us. We want to judge that it’s for illustration nan flu, and we did — until we saw nan data.”

Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases master astatine UC San Francisco, said nan study results are correct successful statement pinch what he sees successful his hospital.

“COVID continues to make immoderate group successful our organization very sick and dice — moreover successful 2024,” he said. “Although astir will not get earnestly sick from COVID, for immoderate group it is for illustration 2020 each complete again.”

That’s peculiarly existent for group who are older, who haven’t received their most caller recommended COVID-19 booster, and who haven’t taken afloat advantage of antivirals specified arsenic Paxlovid. Chin-Hong noted that only 5% of nan COVID-19 patients successful nan study had been treated pinch antivirals earlier they were hospitalized.

Even if nan mortality rates for nan COVID-19 and flu patients had been equal, COVID-19 would still beryllium nan bigger wellness threat because it is sending much group to nan hospital, Al-Aly said.

Between Oct. 1 and nan extremity of March, 75.5 retired of each 100,000 Americans had been hospitalized pinch influenza, according to nan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During that aforesaid period, nan hospitalization complaint for COVID-19 was 122.9 per 100,000 Americans, the CDC says.

“COVID still carries a higher consequence of hospitalization,” Al-Aly said. “And among those hospitalized, much will dice arsenic a result.”

Yet Al-Aly noted pinch vexation that while 48% of adults successful nan U.S. received a flu changeable this year, only 21% of adults are up to day pinch their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to nan CDC.

Chin-Hong added that much than 95% of adults hospitalized pinch COVID-19 this past autumn and wintertime had not received nan latest booster shot, according to nan CDC.

Considering each nan devices disposable to forestall hospitalizations and deaths — and particularly nan truth that they are readily disposable to patients successful nan VA strategy — nan 35% comparative consequence of decease from COVID-19 compared pinch nan flu was “surprisingly high,” Chin-Hong said.

And it’s not for illustration nan flu is simply a trivial wellness threat, particularly for elder citizens and group who are immunocompromised. It routinely kills tens of thousands of Americans each year, CDC information show.

“Influenza is simply a consequential infection,” Al-Aly said. “Even erstwhile COVID becomes adjacent to nan flu, it’s still sobering and significant.”

The researchers besides compared nan mortality rates of VA COVID-19 patients earlier and aft Dec. 24, erstwhile nan Omicron subvariant known arsenic JN.1 became nan ascendant strain successful nan United States. The quality was not statistically significant.

In conscionable nan past 2 weeks, JN.1 appears to person been overtaken by one of its descendants, a subvariant known arsenic KP.2. It’s portion of a family of subvariants that’s taken connected nan nickname “FLiRT,” a moniker that references immoderate of nan mutations that person cropped up connected nan viruses’ spike proteins.

So far, there’s nary denotation that KP.2 is immoderate much vulnerable than JN.1, Al-Aly said.

“Are nan hospitals filling up? No,” he said. “Are ER rooms each complete nan state flooded pinch respiratory illness? No.” Nor are location worrying changes successful nan magnitude of coronavirus detected successful wastewater.

“When you look astatine each these information streams, we’re not seeing ominous signs that KP.2 is thing nan wide nationalist should interest about,” Al-Aly said.

It’s besides excessively early to show whether KP.2 — aliases immoderate comes aft it — will yet erase nan mortality spread betwixt COVID-19 and nan flu, he added.

“Maybe erstwhile we do a rematch successful 2025, that will beryllium nan case,” he said.

Source latimes