The Biggest Differences Between The Coronavirus And The Flu Explained

With the novel coronavirus at the forefront of the public consciousness, it's only natural to try and put it into context, filing it away with other potentially deadly diseases and hoping that the similarities outweigh the differences and allow for some semblance of a roadmap to defeating the infectious scourge. The flu seems like as good a place as any to start. Both diseases cause fevers and coughs, so it stands to reason, from an outside perspective, that the two would at least be kissing cousins, pathologically speaking. As reported by the Washington Post, President Trump even went so far as to suggest that a "really solid flu vaccine" might be the key to beating COVID-19 once and for all.

Unfortunately, that isn't a viable option, as vaccines work more like specialized tools to help the human immune system combat a single set of pathogens and less like red potions from Zelda, and there are numerous ways in which your standard flu differs from this new virus.

Flu vs COVID-19

Lisa Maragakis, the senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, points out a number of differences between flu and the novel coronavirus in a helpful, factual breakdown. For one thing, the flu can be caused by any number of strains of the influenza virus, which has been infecting human beings for generations. COVID-19 is caused exclusively by the novel 2019 coronavirus, a fresh-faced infection that's new in town and has never been combated by human immune systems before. That means that our bodies haven't figured out how to effectively fight the disease.

While details on the 2019 coronavirus are still thin on the ground, another possible difference comes in the manner of transmission. Researchers aren't certain, but they cite the possibility that it might be transmitted via airborne droplets, allowing for infection in passersby even after a patient has left the room. While flu can be treated with antiviral drugs, the efficacy of such measures in treating COVID-19 remains uncertain.

It's also worth mentioning that between 12,000 and 60,000 people die of the flu in the U.S. every year. So far, coronavirus hasn't broken triple digits.