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Are you as likely to die from a common cold as COVID-19? | Covid-19 Expert Database Are you as likely to die from a common cold as COVID-19? | Covid-19 Expert Database

COVID-19 Expert Database


Are you as likely to die from a common cold as COVID-19?

Last modified on 18 September 2020

What our experts say

COVID-19 is far more lethal than the virus that causes the common cold, even though the vast majority of COVID-19 patients only experience mild or no symptoms. The best available current evidence indicates that the novel coronavirus is easily transmissible in the absence of social distancing and masks, and is responsible for more than 900,000 deaths globally.

The common cold is generally not lethal, with some rare exceptions. The flu, which is deadlier than the common cold, killed 0.1% of the people who contracted it in 2019. It is still too early to discern accurate global death estimates for people who have contracted COVID-19, but estimates have ranged from 1% to 25% of all cases, depending on the country. Even conservative COVID-19 death rates (around 1% ) would mean that the novel coronavirus is at least 10 times as deadly as the flu, and significantly more lethal than the common cold.

Compared to the common cold, COVID-19 kills more people in every age group, and is especially more lethal in the oldest age groups. However, it is important to note that actual case numbers and the ability to accurately attribute cause of deaths to COVID-19 is still evolving. As the pandemic progresses and scientists receive a complete picture of all known infections, the risk of death will become more clear.

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Context and background

Multiple myths have been circulating on social media that falsely claim that more people die from the common cold in comparison to COVID-19. COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus that has been responsible for more than 30 million cases and 900,000 deaths globally.

While the virus that causes the common cold does infect a lot of people, it is not responsible for many deaths. COVID-19 is far deadlier for vulnerable and older populations with pre-existing medical conditions.

The case fatality rate (which is the proportion of deaths compared to the total number of cases over a given time period) typically provides a good indicator of how lethal a particular infection is. However, if the number of cases is rapidly evolving, or if there are difficulties in accurately diagnosing cases, the case fatality rate may vary significantly. Regardless, by all measures, the number and proportion of deaths from COVID-19 far exceeds those caused by the common cold.


Glossary Terms

Source of the question

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case fatality rate deaths common cold virus COVID-19

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  1. Mortality analyses (JHU)
  2. Comparing SARS-CoV-2 with SARS-CoV and influenza pandemics (The Lancet)
  3. Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19​ (U.S. CDC)
  4. Estimating mortality from COVID-19 (WHO)
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We base our COVID-19 expert contextualizations on information provided by internationally-recognized health organizations, public health researchers and infectious disease experts. Because information in epidemics is constantly being updated, our content is up to date based on the date and time they are published. If you’re looking for medical advice, please contact a healthcare provider, and be sure to review the World Health Organization website for more information about COVID-19.

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