HELENA — Some people have tried to draw comparisons between COVID-19 and influenza in recent months, but disease experts say it’s clear that the coronavirus has had a far more devastating impact this year.
“They’re two very different diseases,” said Stacey Anderson, communicable disease epidemiologist with Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). “The more we are learning about COVID-19 the more it is differing from influenza.”
While both coronavirus and influenza are respiratory diseases, COVID-19 has a higher chance of secondary infection and a higher mortality rate. Anderson says a key point to understand about the two viruses is that unlike COVID-19, we have the tools to effectively combat influenza.
“There isn’t a vaccine for COVID-19, there isn’t an antiviral treatment that’s readily available like there is for influenza, which is Tamiflu. We definitely are seeing nationwide more people that are infected and hospitalized with deaths included due to COVID compared to influenza,” said Anderson.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated there were between 24,000 to 62,000 deaths related to influenza during the recent flu season in the United States. On Wednesday, the United States crossed 100,000 deaths directly related to COVID-19, with more than 35,000 of those deaths in the last month alone.
The United States has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 compared to the rest of the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. COVID-19 cases in the U.S. account for around 30% of the 5.6 million cases so far in the world as of May 27, even though the country is only around 5% of the world’s total population The U.S. number of deaths represents 28% of the world’s COVID-19 deaths.
Montana hasn’t been hit anywhere as hard as most of the U.S for coronavirus, accounting for less than 500 cases as of May 27. Unlike the nation as a whole, more people in the state have died as a result of influenza (26 deaths) than COVID-19 (17 deaths) as of May 27.
“Montana is a very large state, a rural state, with a lot of geography and fewer opportunities for people to mix like places with larger populations,” said Anderson. “I think there’s a little bit of luck thrown in there, but also I think Montanans have done a really good job at implementing these measures we’ve asked them to do to slow the spread.”
When compared to our neighboring states, Montana has had at least three times less number of cases per capita. As of May 22, Montana has seen 45.1 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. Wyoming was at 138.6, Idaho was 144.5, North Dakota was 293.3 and South Dakota was 481.7 cases per 100,000 people.
Anderson says it’s good to remember that Montana has been working with very small numbers compared to other states.
“We are seeing other states add thousands of cases per day,” explained Anderson. “So, when you see a jump of 8 cases all in one county it seems dramatic, but you have to keep in mind that we’re dealing with small numbers to begin with.”
Anderson reiterated that Montanans have been doing a fantastic job so far limiting the spread of COVID-19 but asks people to keep that up during the summer months.
“Always practice good hand hygiene, stay home when you’re sick, wear a mask when you can’t apply appropriate social distancing, and try to keep that 6 feet apart,” said Anderson.