Doctors warn against comparing COVID-19, seasonal flu while kids await vaccine

Doctors told Fox News the coronavirus and seasonal flu have distinct differences

While the coronavirus and the seasonal flu share some similar symptoms, health experts say the two viruses shouldn’t be compared, especially with the back-to-school season underway.

"COVID-19 and the seasonal flu should not be compared to each other," Dr. Brad Younggren, the chief medical officer at 98point6 Inc. – a text-based primary care app, told Fox News. 

"The fatality rate for COVID-19 is between 10 and 50 times higher than that of seasonal flu," Younggren explained. "Additionally, COVID-19 is significantly more contagious than seasonal flu. While patients with the seasonal flu infect, on average, approximately 1.3 other people, those with the new Delta variant of COVID-19 infect on average between 6 and 9 other people, according to CDC data."

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Although people of all ages have shown concern over the pandemic and emerging coronavirus variants, children under the age of 12 are vulnerable to COVID-19 infection since vaccines are still undergoing testing for this age group.  

Sources who work for the Food and Drug Administration confirmed to Fox News that the health agency anticipates it will weigh in on expanding authorization for coronavirus vaccines to kids under 12 around September. 

By that time, many schools throughout the U.S. will be reopened for in-person learning – a fact that has parents and doctors worried about coronavirus infection rates rising in children. 

Children under the age of 12 are currently at risk of contracting COVID-19 since vaccines are still in development for this age group.

Children under the age of 12 are currently at risk of contracting COVID-19 since vaccines are still in development for this age group. (iStock)

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 4.3 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, which makes up roughly 14.3% of the confirmed infections in the U.S.  

As of Aug. 5, the overall rate of infection in children is 5,703 cases per 100,000, the AAP reports.

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The CDC is currently advising children and school officials to consistently wear face masks regardless of vaccination status, social distance, wash hands and consider vaccination when shots become available as ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The health agency also recommends school systems put enhanced cleaning and ventilation protocols in place in addition to coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

Upon suspected flu or COVID-19 cases, Dr. Chelsea Johnson says people should consult a physician who can correctly identify symptoms. Due to the overlap in symptoms, the CDC advises testing to confirm diagnoses.

"COVID-19 shares symptoms with the flu, which shares symptoms with the common cold," Johnson, the associate lead of pediatrics at K Health – a digital primary care platform, told Fox News. "For someone who doesn’t have extensive medical training and doesn’t know what they’re looking for, it can actually be dangerous to rely on a search on the internet, and cause unnecessary worry."

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While healthcare professionals have an easier time identifying the differences between COVID-19, the flu and the common cold, she noted similarities including fever, body aches, cough and fatigue. 

"Trouble breathing is always a red flag for COVID," Johnson warned. 

While the novel coronavirus and the seasonal flu share similarities, health experts say the two viruses shouldn’t be compared, especially with the back-to-school season underway.

While the novel coronavirus and the seasonal flu share similarities, health experts say the two viruses shouldn’t be compared, especially with the back-to-school season underway. (iStock)

Other distinct COVID-19 symptoms include a loss of smell and taste and gastrointestinal issues, according to Younggren.

"The complete list [of COVID-19 symptoms] is long and varied, with similarities to cold and flu. Common human coronaviruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, including the common cold," he added. "It’s even possible to have the flu, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and COVID-19 simultaneously."

Additional similarities between COVID-19 and the seasonal flu can include sinus congestion, drainage and a sore throat, but Younggren warned: "COVID-19 can cause more severe symptoms like trouble breathing and dry cough, more often leading to pneumonia and hospitalization."

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Dr. Mark Cameron, an associate professor of quantitative health sciences at Case Western Reserve University, told Fox News the long-term effects of COVID-19 are still being researched, which should be reason enough for the public to remain cautious. 

In his own words: "The fact that COVID-19 variants are consistently evolving and changing how they infect, who they infect, and how bad the outcomes can be is reason alone to be wary of comparing a disease we know pretty well year-over-year, like the flu, to a disease we are still desperately trying to understand and control."

As parents wait for the FDA to approve coronavirus vaccines for children under the age of 12, Dr. Vino Palli, the founder and CEO of MiDoctor Urgent Care, told Fox News that kids can get vaccinated for the seasonal flu.

Fox News' Kayla Rivas contributed to this report.