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COVID-19 three times deadlier than seasonal influenza, large French study reveals

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Medical workers begin installing a 60-year-old COVID-19 patient into an ICU room at the La Timone hospital in Marseille, France, Nov. 12, 2020.
Medical workers begin installing a 60-year-old COVID-19 patient into an ICU room at the La Timone hospital in Marseille, France, Nov. 12, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Daniel Cole
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COVID-19 is three times deadlier than seasonal influenza, a new study has revealed.

The study conducted by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the University of Dijon, compared data from more than 89,500 COVID-19 patients hospitalised between March and April and over 45,800 patients hospitalised for seasonal influenza between December 2018 and February 28, 2019.

The results of the study were published on Friday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal.

It showed that the mortality rate is three times higher for COVID-19 than it is for seasonal influenza, respectively 16.9 per cent and 5.8 per cent.

Hospitalisations were meanwhile found to be twice as frequent for COVID-19 than for seasonal influenza with a greater number of COVID-19 patients admitted into intensive care — 16.8 per cent vs 10.8 per cent. Stays in ICU were also lengthier with COVID-19 patients with an average of 15 days compared to 8 days for seasonal influenza.

Researchers flagged some of limitations, however. They noted for instance that although testing for COVID-19 was standardised nationally, influenza screening practices may have varied from hospital to hospital, which may explain, in part, the high number of patients hospitalised for COVID-19.

Additionally, they noted that the difference in hospitalisation rates may be partially due to the existing immunity to influenza, either because of a previous infection or because of vaccination.

Catherine Quantin, a professor at the University of Dijon and researcher for INSERM, stressed that "this study is the largest to date comparing the two diseases and confirms that COVID-19 is far more serious than influenza."

"The finding that the death rate from COVID-19 was three times higher than for seasonal influenza is particularly striking when one recalls that the 2018/2019 influenza season was the worst in France in terms of deaths in the last five years," she added.

France is one of the world's most impacted countries with more than 59,600 deaths and over 2.4 million confirmed infections of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.