World news – New research shows a significantly higher exposure to COVID-19 compared to the flu

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March 19, 2021

from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

In an article published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, physician-researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) examined the relative effects of COVID-19 on patients hospitalized with a viral infection in March and April 2020 , compared to patients hospitalized with influenza during the last five flu seasons at the medical center. Overall, the team showed that COVID-19 cases resulted in significantly more weekly hospital stays, more mechanical ventilation, and higher mortality rates than influenza.

COVID-19 and influenza are contagious viral diseases of the respiratory tract that, in severe cases, can lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory failure. However, a detailed comparison of the epidemiology and clinical features of COVID-19 with those of influenza is lacking.

« COVID-19 has been compared with influenza by both health professionals and laypeople, but very limited detailed objectives are available Data is available to compare and contrast the effects of these two diseases on patients and hospitals, « said the respective author, Dr. Michael Donnino, intensive care and emergency physician at BIDMC. « We compared patients admitted to BIDMC with COVID-19 in Spring 2020 with patients admitted to BIDMC with influenza in the last five flu seasons. We found that COVID-19 causes more serious illnesses and is more deadly than Influenza. « 

Donnino and colleagues enrolled a total of 1,634 hospital patients in their study, 582 of whom had confirmed COVID-19 in the laboratory and 1,052 confirmed influenza. The team found an average of 210 patients enrolled into the BIDMC during each eight-month flu season, compared to the 582 patients with COVID-19 enrolled in March and April 2020. 174 patients with COVID-19 (or 30 percent) During the two month period, only 84 patients with influenza (or 8 percent) were ventilated over all five influenza seasons. Likewise, the proportion of patients who died was much higher for COVID-19 than for influenza; 20 percent of admitted patients with COVID-19 died within two months, compared with three percent of patients with influenza over five seasons.

Further analysis found that patients with COVID-19 in hospital tended to be younger than patients with influenza in the hospital. For patients who required mechanical ventilation, patients with COVID-19 were ventilated for much longer – a mean duration of two weeks – than patients with influenza a little more than three days. In addition, in patients with COVID-19, those who needed mechanical ventilation were far less likely to have pre-existing medical conditions.

« Our data shows that 98 percent of the deaths in patients with COVID -19 were hospitalized, were directly or indirectly related to their COVID-19 illness. This shows that patients did not die from COVID, but from COVID pneumonia or a complication, « said Donnino.

The authors provide notes that strict social distancing guidelines in place last spring may have influenced these results by limiting the incidence and lethality of COVID-19 towards the end of April 2020. Conversely, as the pandemic progressed, some treatment practices may have evolved to improve outcomes for patients with COVID-19.

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