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why is the comparison with the flu complicated?

“Why is this new virus so scary when the much more deadly flu virus is practically ignored?” [Une question d’Elisabeth, Saugnac et Cambran].

1 In hospital, severe cases of influenza are limited this year

Due to its intrinsic seriousness, influenza is a closely monitored disease in the territory. Cases are reported and escalated week after week nationwide. In its epidemiological bulletin dated March 11, Public Health France – the national public health agency – reports 809 serious cases of seasonal flu, hospitalized in intensive care, since the virus landed in early November 2019.

There were 83 deaths among them. Contrary to popular belief, the elderly are not the only victims. Of the total, 36 dead were between 15 and 64 years of age.

Given the epidemic slope, the Covid-19 hospital balance sheet should logically exceed these figures by the end of the week. At this point, we cannot (yet) conclude that the coronavirus will kill more than the flu this year. Because for a large part, the damage of the seasonal flu passes under the hospital radars.

It is in the spring, by assessing the excess mortality in relation to the usual winter mortality, that we approach the truth. “At the national level, since the start of the flu epidemic, there has not been any excess mortality from all causes,” confines itself to noting Public Health France, with current data.

2 The flu toll often exceeds 10,000 deaths

In January 2016, the AD-PA – the organization which brings together the leaders of services for the elderly and nursing homes – deplored the “general indifference” that had accompanied the death of 16,000 elderly people during the 2015 epidemic of seasonal flu.

In that year, health officials recorded an excess of 18,300 deaths from the flu epidemic, with more than 1,500 people admitted to intensive care. The balance sheet is sometimes uncorrelated with fears. The panic caused by the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic in 2009–2010 – and by the catastrophic reaction of the authorities at the time – is not reflected in the figures: less than 1,400 serious cases in intensive care and 312 deaths.

Year in and year out, Santé Publique France estimates the number of deaths related to seasonal flu at 10,000.

3 There are several culprits of the seasonal flu

There is only one person responsible for Covid-19: the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. While there are several people responsible for influenza, the flu: type A viruses, with its H1N1 and H3N2 strains, and type B viruses – not to mention the animal forms that can be transmitted to humans.

“Depending on the virus responsible for the seasonal epidemic, the impact will be very different,” said Bruno Lina, virologist at the CHU de Lyon, on the website of Santé Publique France.

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