Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are 3 times more likely to die than flu patients, study shows

BARCELONA — COVID-19 is often compared to influenza, with symptoms in mild cases likened to nothing more than the common cold. But for those with more serious infections, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is proving to be far worse. Patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are three times more likely to die than those admitted with flu, according to new research.

The study, was conducted during the first wave of the pandemic by researchers at the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, Spain. Researchers conclude that adults in the hospital with COVID-19 face triple the risk of death within 30 days and 90 days versus patients under treatment for seasonal influenza. People aged 18 or over admitted with the virus were also at higher risk of complications and dying than those with flu, despite being younger and having fewer chronic illnesses.

The findings also suggest that COVID-19 is associated with both longer stays in hospital and intensive care, and costs nearly twice as much to treat as flu.

For the study, researchers examined the medical records of 187 patients with an average age of 76 admitted to hospital with seasonal flu between 2017 and 2019. Data was compared to the records of 187 COVID patients, average age 67, hospitalized during the first wave of the pandemic between March and May, 2020. All of the COVID patients required oxygen therapy at admission.

Flu patients tended to have more existing chronic illnesses and problems performing daily activities than COVID patients, but were less likely to be overweight or have obesity. The analysis shows that Covid-19 was associated with a higher risk of infection severity and admission to intensive care.

COVID patients were also more likely to experience certain complications including acute kidney injury, blood clots, and moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome, where the lungs cannot provide the body’s vital organs with enough oxygen.

Flu patients were more likely to suffer from bacterial pneumonia.

Overall, 15 percent of the COVID patients died compared to just 5 percent of the flu patient within 30 days of being admitted to hospital. The death rate after 90 days was even higher among COVID patients (19 percent) than flu patients (6 percent).

Further analysis shows that COVID patients spent far longer in hospital than flu patients. The average cost of critical care for COVID patients (about $23,000) was almost twice as much as for flu patients (about $13,000). Pharmacy treatment and testing costs were also “significantly higher” in the coronavirus group.

“Our findings suggest COVID-19 is far more lethal than influenza. Despite influenza patients being older and having more comorbid illnesses, COVID-19 patients had consistently worse health outcomes and were considerably more expensive to treat,” says study lead author Dr. Inmaculada Lopez Montesinos in a statement. “Even for those people who are lucky enough to survive COVID-19 and make it out of the hospital, they will be forever scarred by the consequences. It is vital that people get fully vaccinated and boosted against both viruses.”

The findings were presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2022) in Lisbon, Portugal.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.