FactCheck Social Media

No, COVID-19 isn’t just the flu with a makeover

2020-12-04 15:20:30

The Statement

An image posted to Facebook by celebrity chef Pete Evans claims that COVID-19 is a rebranding of the seasonal influenza as part of an attempt to usher in a “New World Order.”

The text in the image reads, “I love that all the ruling class had to do in order to usher in the #NewWorldOrder was to re-brand the flu and convince people it was a threat to our very existence.”

The December 1 post had been viewed more than 30,000 times and generated more than 200 shares and 1,800 reactions at the time of writing. The image is a screenshot of a November 17 tweet.

A Facebook post from December 1, 2020
 A Facebook meme claims that COVID-19 is a “re-brand” of the seasonal influenza. 

The Analysis

While COVID-19 shares symptoms with influenza, it is caused by a different virus – and induces more serious health effects in many patients.

The 2019 novel coronavirus disease – commonly referred to as COVID-19 – was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a new strain in the coronavirus family, according to the World Health Organization. This is a group of viruses that includes SARS and MERS.

Flu is caused by distinct influenza viruses, which infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies several key differences between the flu and COVID-19, including the ease with which the coronavirus appears to spread and the seriousness of the symptoms it causes in some patients.

“It can also take longer before people show symptoms (for COVID-19) and people can be contagious for longer,” the CDC says.

An April article in the Journal of Paramedic Medicine explains that both the viruses and diseases they cause are distinct.

“SARS-CoV-2 is a virus in the zoonotic coronavirus family. This virus, previously unknown in humans, is what is now causing the clinical illness commonly referred to as: COVID-19. Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases caused by spread from non-humans to humans,” the article says.

“Influenza is a different disease, caused by a different virus. Influenza is an infection caused by a member of the ribonucleic acid (RNA) orthomyxovirus family.”

Dr Lucy Telfar Barnard, a Wellington epidemiologist who has contributed to the New Zealand government’s modelling reports on COVID-19, told AAP FactCheck in an email that COVID-19 is not a “re-brand” of seasonal flu.

“Even though some symptoms are similar, they’re not the same disease by any stretch,” she said.

“The (COVID-19) virus is a different virus, and while there are some overlaps, the two diseases present in different ways. The claim is absolutely false.”

Monique Chilver, a health researcher at the University of Adelaide and program manager for the Australian Sentinel Practices Research Network, a monitoring scheme for infectious diseases, said the two diseases had similarities which meant some flu research could be applied to COVID-19.

“However, COVID-19 has a much higher morbidity and mortality rate than the seasonal flu,” she said.

Another major difference between the flu and COVID-19 is that there are vaccines for the flu, while COVID-19 vaccines are only just starting to be introduced and approved for use.

Comparing recorded COVID-19 deaths to flu fatalities and fatality rates is telling, as previously explored by AAP FactCheck.

Between December 2019 and October 2020, COVID-19 had killed more people in the US than influenza did in five years, Johns Hopkins School Of Public Health reported.

Worldwide, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has claimed around 1.5 million lives as of December 3, according to the university’s tally. In contrast, the World Health Organization estimates there are between 290,000 to 650,000 influenza-related respiratory deaths out of three to five million severe cases in a typical year.

Several of Evans’ earlier posts relating to COVID-19 have been fact-checked as false (see here, here and here).

COVID-19 masks in a beauty salon
 COVID-19 isn’t a made-over version of the flu – despite sharing some similar symptoms. 

The Verdict

The Facebook post’s claim that COVID-19 is influenza rebranded is false. The virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, belongs to a different virus family to influenza. The disease has different symptoms and transmission characteristics to the seasonal flu, and a higher mortality rate.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

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