No, COVID-19 is Not the Flu Says Public Health Officer
Dr. Henning Ansorg presenting to the Board of Supervisors on May 12, 2020
By edhat staff
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Officer stated the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is not simply the flu, but a much more contagious and deadly virus.
Dr. Henning Ansorg gave a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday affirming what other scientists and physicians have been saying all along, COVID-19 is different and more dangerous than influenza.
On April 21, Supervisor Peter Adam questioned whether the stay at home order was necessary and requested influenza data after stating COVID-19 deaths were "no worse than the flu."
Dr. Ansorg came prepared to prove how much worse COVID-19 actually is. He prefaced his presentation by explaining the major differences between influenza reporting data and COVID-19 data.
Data on the flu has not been measured in the way COVID-19 has been. The majority of data is based on surveillance where a physician would say "this is sort of like the flu," said Dr. Ansorg.
The number of influenza deaths is not measured or lab-confirmed in the way COVID-19 cases are, the flu is only approximated and contains a slew of different pathogens, not just one flu, he said.
According to death certificates, there were seven flu-related deaths reported this year. Dr. Ansorg cautioned this does not mean the flu was confirmed with a lab test, but simply what was stated on the death certificate. Any mention of the flu on a death certificate regardless of lab verification or pre-existing conditions were counted in the report as the flu.
There were seven flu deaths in three months compared to eleven COVID-19 deaths in one month. Influenza has a fatality rate of 0.01% where COVID-19 has a fatality rate of 5.7% in the USA.
Supervisor Adam expressed his suspicion with the numbers stating it's questionable the last flu-related death was reported on March 18 followed by COVID-19 deaths, asking whether some of the COVID-19 deaths might actually be the flu.
Dr. Ansorg effectively shut him down by stating all deaths, including COVID-19 deaths, were tested for influenza and other viruses, and there was not a single dual diagnosis.
In terms of comparing the number of flu cases to COVID-19 cases, Dr. Ansorg said it's impossible to compare these as the flu is not a reportable disease. Reportable diseases are diseases considered to be of great public health importance. In the United States, local, state, and national agencies require that these diseases be reported when they are diagnosed by doctors or laboratories.
COVID-19 is considered a reportable disease as are chickenpox, measles, and smallpox. The flu and cold viruses are not considered reportable diseases.
The reproduction number (R0), or how infectious a disease can be, is between 1.2 to 1.4 for the flu whereas COVID-19 is 2.5. Meaning on average, a person with COVID-19 will infect at least two other people, twice as much as the flu.
"I'm not playing [influenza] down but it just doesn't compare to COVID-19 in terms of fatalities, in terms of reproduction number, meaning how infectious this virus is," said Dr. Ansorg.
He went on to state that influenza has been around for a very long time and even as the virus mutates from year to year, the public has at least a partial immunity to it which decreases the number of severe illnesses.
"I've been a clinician for a quarter of a century for sure and I've yet to see, or recall, a lot of patients that have actually died from influenza. I've had a fair share of patients that had to be hospitalized and got really ill... COVID-19 definitely gets our attention," he said.
When Supervisor Joan Hartmann asked what we could expect in the coming months, Dr. Ansorg wasn't sure but said the outbreak at the Lompoc prison provides an interesting scenario as testing the whole population proves 70% is positive for COVID-19 with the majority being asymptomatic.
"Yes, there is a possibility to get to so-called herd immunity, however, at what cost? That's the problem just because of the high fatality rate and the very contagiousness of this virus. It's very very difficult to open the flood gates and just let nature take its course. That is not possible because it is too aggressive," said Dr. Ansorg.
He concluded by saying COVID-19 is here to stay and at this time it's unclear if the virus will provide some respite during the warmer season or not.