Patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are at a higher risk of health problems and death than those with influenza, according to a study published in The BMJ

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused over 1.6 million deaths and there have been more than 72.1 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. From the beginning of the pandemic, scientists were in agreement that COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu. However, fringe theories suggesting that COVID-19 is far less deadly or equally deadly to the flu have widely circulated. 

For the study, investigators looked at de-identified medical records in a database maintained by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the medical records examined, 3641 patients hospitalized were being treated for COVID-19 between February 1, 2020, and June 17, 2020. The analysis also included the records of 12,676 patients hospitalized for flu between January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2019. According to the study, the average age of either patient group was 69 years.  

Patients hospitalized for COVID-19 were nearly 5 times more likely to die than those hospitalized for influenza, according to the study. Of the patients hospitalized for flu, 5.3% died whereas 18.5% of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 died. Additionally, patients with COVID-19 were 4 times more likely to require a breathing machine and nearly 2.5 times more likely to need ICU treatment. 

"We can call COVID-19 a respiratory virus all we want, but if you look at the associated clinical consequences, it can cause significant damage to the brain, liver, heart, kidneys and blood-clotting systems," said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University, in a press release. "It's a destructive virus."

The study also found that patients with COVID-19 most at risk of death were those 75 years of age and older who had a chronic kidney disease or dementia and African Americans who were considered medically obese, or who had diabetes or kidney disease. 

REFERENCE:
COVID-19 patients at higher risk of death, health problems than those with flu [News Release] December 15, 2020; St. Louis, MO. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-12/wuis-cpa121520.php.