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MYTH: Annual deaths from influenza are comparable to those from COVID-19
FACT: The death toll from COVID-19 greatly exceeds even the most severe influenza seasons

By: Kevin Fisher
Last updated: Updated October 20, 2020

Each year in the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. While flu viruses can circulate all year-round, flu peaks between December and February. On October 6, President Trump minimized deaths from the COVID-19 by comparing it to false data about annual flu deaths.  His tweet stated:

“Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!”

Twitter tagged the tweet with a warning that it violated its rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19.  In fact, by October 6th, 211,000 Americans had died from COVID-19, a toll for 2020 that will increase during the winter months.

In comparison, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in the 2019-2020 flu season 22,000 passed away from the flu. Even in the deadliest flu season of the last decade, 2017-2018, 61,000 people died.  So, at its most lethal, flu deaths will represent only about a quarter or less of expected COVID-19 deaths in 2020.

Recent data from the CDC confirm that COVID-19 causes greater morbidity than the flu  with increased risk for complications involving multiple organ systems, as well as racial/ethnic disparities involving respiratory, neurologic, renal and sepsis complications.

President Trump’s tweet is also false in another way.  Even with 22,000 people dying from the flu last year, the people who have died and their friends and family are not “learning to live with” these deaths. These deaths must be prevented and avoided if at all possible.

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