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More people died of Covid in the year to August than have died annually from flu and pneumonia combined in any year since 2000.
Despite the fact that the virus is only thought to have been in general circulation since March, Covid has so far caused the deaths of 3.4 times as many people in 2020 as flu and pneumonia combined, according to new data released for England and Wales by the Office of National Statistics.
Flu and pneumonia are counted together because, as the ONS notes, “many cases of pneumonia are in fact caused by influenza”.
The ONS team found that influenza and pneumonia was mentioned on more death certificates than Covid. However, when they looked at the conditions recorded specifically as the cause of death, coronavirus was more common.
Although flu and pneumonia deaths have been relatively low this year, the report found that more people had died of Covid in the first eight months of this year than have ever died of flu or pneumonia in the same period since comparable records began in 1959.
In the year to 31 August 2020 there were 52,327 deaths in England and Wales involving Covid-19 of which 48,168 (92%) had coronavirus as the underlying cause.
In the year to date, one-in-eight deaths (12.4%) in the period to August 2020 were caused by Covid. By comparison just 3.5% of deaths in the same period were caused by pneumonia and just 0.1% were caused by flu.
“In the period January to August, Covid caused around three times as many deaths as we usually see from influenza and pneumonia. This is despite the fact that Covid was not in widespread circulation until March,” Prof Andrew Hayward, director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, told the Guardian.
Prof Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh cautioned that the ONS data does not reveal whether the higher death toll is down to a greater number of infections, or Covid being more deadly than flu and pneumonia.
But, he said: “The substantially greater number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 does tell us that at the moment, Covid-19 is a greater risk to people than influenza.”
Hayward said other data sheds light on the matter. “You cannot necessarily [see] it from these data, because they do not show the number of infections, but Covid-19 has a much higher case fatality rate than influenza.”
Kao said part of the reason Covid has caused relatively more deaths may be down to there being a flu vaccine – as yet no vaccine is available for the coronavirus.
The number of Covid deaths in the 8 months to 31 August is higher than the annual total of flu and pneumonia deaths in any year since 2000, the year in which a widespread flu vaccination was introduced in the UK.
The ONS report showed that, of the deaths due to Covid in the year to date, 30% occurred in care homes, almost twice the proportion of care home deaths caused by flu and pneumonia (15.2%).
The report does not yet cover September to December 2020 – a time of year when cases of flu typically rise.
The influence of these few months on the overall picture remains to be seen, but Hayward said the measures taken to control Covid would also reduced the transmission of flu, meaning fewer deaths of the latter than over a “normal” winter.
“It is to be expected that Covid will continue to cause considerably more deaths than influenza and pneumonia,” he said.
Source: The Guardian
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