In the spring, some compared the Covid-19 to the flu, it turned out to be much more dangerous. According to a study published in December in the medical journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, the new coronavirus is said to kill three times as many in hospital as the seasonal flu.
The study is based on data from more than 135,000 French patients, i.e. 89,530 hospitalized for Covid-19 in March and April 2020 and 45,819 hospitalized for influenza between December 2018 and February 2019.
Hard to compare
The death rate of patients with Covid-19 was three times higher than that of patients affected by influenza: 16.9% for the former (more than 15,000 deaths out of 89,500 patients) against 5.8% for the latter (more than 2,600 deaths out of 45,800 sick).
It is always difficult to make a comparison between the impact of two diseases. Covid-19 is new, seasonal flu is a well-known phenomenon. The two diseases have important differences: the flu disappears every year before the summer, and it is treated with a vaccine, even though vaccination coverage was only 48% in people who were recommended to be vaccinated.
The equivalent of eight seasonal flu epidemics
However, putting the deaths linked to the flu and the coronavirus into perspective is still edifying on the scale of the health crisis. By adding the number of deaths per year in France attributed to seasonal flu since winter 2011-2012, we see that Covid-19 has caused as many deaths since March:
We knew it in April. Jérôme Salomon said on April 20, when France had just crossed the symbolic threshold of 20,000 deaths, which the Covid-19 had killed “By far more than all influenza epidemics, even the deadliest, and more than the heatwave of summer 2003 which killed 19,000 people”.
Difficult to quantify
It is important to remember that the flu death tally is complex. The cause of death is often due to several co-morbidities and the DREES (Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics Department) reports only show a few hundred cases per year, where the influenza is noted as the reason for death.
But the application of statistical models and the analysis of variations in mortality then make it possible to establish a better estimate (between 8,000 and 13,000 deaths per year in recent years).
For the Covid-19, which is a new disease, we do not yet have this hindsight, and deaths at home may go under the radar. INSEE has accelerated the counting and dissemination of excess mortality, and observed a very clear acceleration of deaths during the first and second waves.