Virus tracking, symptoms make flu and COVID-19 incomparable, according to health officials

OREGON.- 47 people have died from coronavirus in Jackson, Josephine, and Klamath counties this year. But some people are continuing to compare the seasonal flu with COVID-19.

For months, many people have drawn similarities between COVID-19 and the influenza virus. But health officials say while they may share familiar symptoms, they are very different diseases.

Dr. Jim Shames with Jackson County Health and Human Services says the modern flu does not equate to COVID-19.

“It may be just like the flu in 1918, the Spanish pandemic that killed millions of people around the world, but its not just like the seasonal influenza as we commonly know it,” Dr. Shames said. He says the thing that makes COVID so much more dangerous than the flu is how quickly it spreads.

“The initial symptoms are similar, but from that point on there’s quite a bit of difference. For one thing, COVID is quite a bit more contagious,” he explained.

He says because people know when they have the flu, they can take steps to protect those around them. But the virus can be asymptomatic in some people so it gets around much easier.

“Even if you’re trying your best, you may not be able to stay away from others when you’re able to transfer the disease because you don’t know that you have it,” Dr. Shames said.

He says it also can also do far more damage to the body than the flu.

“Its not just a respiratory disease, it actually can affect organs throughout the body. Its probably as much a cardiovascular disease as it is a respiratory disease.”

Comparing the two by the data is also difficult. Cases and deaths caused by the flu haven’t been tracked as carefully as COVID because it has been around for so long and isn’t as deadly.

“If we were to try to track influenza case by case the way we are with COVID-19 it would not be sustainable because its very prevalent,” Klamath Public Health’s Valeree Lane said. She says the flu is only recorded if there is an outbreak somewhere like long-term living facilities and schools.

The only flu deaths that have been recorded by the Oregon Health Association have been in people under 18.

“We have a difference in quality of information on both viruses. So being careful in what you’re comparing is always important to have the best understanding of what is going on,” Lane said of comparing statistics.

The World Health Association estimates 290,000 to 650,000 flu-related deaths a year. But there have been just under 1.5 million fatal cases of COVID-19 according to John Hopkins Medicine.

But both Shames and Lane say there is a small silver lining to the COVID pandemic when it comes to the flu.

“The things we are doing to protect ourselves from COVID also protect us from the flu, the common cold, and a lot of other things,” Dr. Jim Shames said.

The Oregon Health Authority says when it comes to recording COVID-19 deaths with underlying conditions, they go by the CDC guidelines. Those guidelines explain that we still know so little about COVID, and while it may not be a direct cause of death, it does aggravate existing conditions which contributes to a death.

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