COVID-19 Burden Greater Compared to Influenza

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center researchers confirm COVID-19 more serious than seasonal flu 
Boston mass
Boston (Precision Vaccinations)

The Journal of General Internal Medicine published a study by physician-researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) that assessed the relative impact of COVID-19 on patients hospitalized with the viral infection versus patients hospitalized with influenza.

COVID-19 and influenza are both contagious respiratory viral diseases that can lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory failure in severe cases, says the U.S. CDC.

Overall, the BIDMC team demonstrated that COVID-19 cases resulted in significantly more weekly hospitalizations, more use of mechanical ventilation, and higher mortality rates than influenza.

The research team found that, on average, 210 patients were admitted to BIDMC during each eight-month flu season, compared to the 582 patients with COVID-19 admitted in March and April 2020. While 174 patients with COVID-19 (or 30 percent) received mechanical ventilation during the two months, just 84 patients with influenza (or 8 percent) were placed on ventilation over all five seasons of flu. 

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 in the two months, compared to three percent of patients with influenza over five seasons.

Further analysis revealed that hospitalized patients with COVID-19 tended to be younger than those hospitalized with influenza. 

Among patients requiring mechanical ventilation, patients with COVID-19 were on ventilation much longer -- a median duration of two weeks -- compared to just over three days for influenza patients. 

Moreover, patients with COVID-19 were far less likely to have had pre-existing medical conditions among patients requiring mechanical ventilation.

"COVID-19 has been compared to influenza both by health care professionals and the lay public, but there's really limited detailed objective data available for comparing and contrasting the impact of these two diseases on patients and hospitals," said corresponding author Michael Donnino, MD, Critical Care and Emergency Medicine physician at BIDMC, in a press statement.

"We compared patients admitted to BIDMC with COVID-19 in spring 2020 to patients admitted to BIDMC with influenza during the last five flu seasons. We found that COVID-19 causes more severe disease and is more lethal than influenza." 

"Our data illustrate that 98 percent of deaths of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were directly or indirectly related to their COVID-19 illness, illustrating that patients did not die with COVID but rather from COVID pneumonia or a complication," added Donnino.

The authors note that the stringent social distancing guidance in effect last spring may have impacted these findings by limiting the incidence and lethality of COVID-19 toward the end of April 2020. Conversely, some treatment practices have evolved throughout the pandemic, potentially improving outcomes for patients with COVID-19.

This work was supported by internal funding. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching, and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School. It consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding.

PrecisionVaccinations publishes research-based vaccine news.