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Not the Flu: COVID Death Risk Is 3.5 Times That of Influenza

MONDAY, Feb. 15, 2021 -- The risk of death from COVID-19 is more than triple that from seasonal flu, researchers in Canada say.

Their findings are similar to recent studies from the United States and France. The study was published Feb. 10 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

"We can now say definitively that COVID-19 is much more severe than seasonal influenza," said study author Dr. Amol Verma, a researcher in the School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

"Patients admitted to hospital in Ontario with COVID-19 had a 3.5 times greater risk of death, 1.5 times greater use of the ICU, and 1.5 times longer hospital stays than patients admitted with influenza," he said in a journal news release. These patients were also more likely to be put on a ventilator.

Verma's team compared flu- and COVID-related hospitalizations between Nov. 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020 at seven hospitals in Toronto and nearby Mississauga. Both have large populations and high COVID infection rates.

During the study period, there were 783 hospitalizations for flu in 763 patients, and 1,027 hospitalizations for COVID in 972 patients. That represented nearly a quarter of all COVID hospitalizations in the entire province of Ontario during that time.

About 1 in 5 COVID patients was younger than 50, and that age group accounted for nearly 1 in 4 intensive care admissions.

While many people believe COVID-19 mainly affects older people, "it can also cause very serious illness in younger adults," Verma said.

He noted that adults under age 50 accounted for 20% of COVID hospitalizations in the first wave of the pandemic. Nearly 1 in 3 adults under 50 required intensive care and nearly 1 in 10 had to be readmitted to the hospital after they were discharged, according to the study.

It is true, Verma added, that COVID hits older adults the hardest.

"We found that among adults over 75 years who were hospitalized with COVID-19, nearly 40% died in hospital," he said.

Researchers said COVID might be much more dangerous than flu because people have lower levels of immunity to the new coronavirus than to seasonal flu. Past flu infections and vaccinations have helped people build immunity to the illness.

"Hopefully, the severity of COVID-19 will decrease over time as people are vaccinated against the virus and more effective treatments are identified. There is, unfortunately, also the possibility that variants of the virus could be even more severe," Verma said.

© 2021 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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