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COVID-19 vs. Flu: There are important differences

Coronavirus COVID-19 background
Posted at 7:05 PM, Mar 18, 2020

EL PASO COUNTY — Comparisons between COVID-19 and the flu have been common with the spread of the virus.

"As we know more about COVID, what is happening, there are some real difficulties in making those comparisons," said El Paso County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Robin Johnson. Like the rapid changes to COVID-19 response, the comparison to flu has changed.

It started as a comparison showing the two are viruses effecting the respiratory system. The spread and tracking of COVID-19 show it is not an apples to apples comparison

The contrasts are becoming more obvious. A lot is known about the flu. It shows up in communities every year. The strain alters, yet your body still recognizes the virus. "What is different about COVID is we've never seen it in our community before,” said Johnson. “So, no one has immunity to really fight this."

Flu shots are common and easily accessed. "We do not have a vaccine for it." There is no such thing as a COVID-19 shot to help prevent catching the disease.

If you get the flu, doctors have medications to help. "We don't have anti-virals [for COVID-19], we know actually help with the symptomology," said Johnson. Another no for COVID-19.

Flu season has some surges, but more typically runs a steady course from fall through spring. The rapid spread of COVID-19 is a major contrast. "It's coming in more of a wave and so we're seeing a huge peak of cases all at one instead of spread out over time," said Johnson.

The threat of a major swell in cases has potential to overwhelm the healthcare system like it has in other regions of the world. Preventing that crippling wave is one of major drivers behind all the unprecedented calls for closures and social distancing across the United States.

As for the flu, Dr. Johnson says for now, leave the comparisons in the past.