We answer the often searched question: “What are the symptoms of coronavirus versus the flu?”


The claim: Flu deaths are down to almost zero and data is being manipulated.

Donald Trump Jr. on Oct. 26 retweeted a Daily Mail article about a sharp drop in influenza-related deaths this year.

“We went from 75,000 flu deaths last year in America to almost 0,” he added. “Does anyone actually believe that? Or do you think there may be allocation games being played to manipulate the truth?”

His tweet — which has been seen by tens of thousands of people — was screenshotted and widely shared on Facebook going viral in a post by user Tyler Zed. As of Oct. 30, it has been shared more than 5,400 times and has gathered hundreds of comments. 

Neither Trump nor Zed immediately returned a request for comment.

USA TODAY has previously debunked several claims asserting that different flu seasons were deadlier than the COVID-19 pandemic. These fact-checks have determined that COVID-19 is deadlier than the 2018-2019 flu season, the 1918 Spanish flu and the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Nor have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped reporting flu deaths as COVID-19 has ravaged the country, USA TODAY reporting found.

CDC data does not support Trump’s claim. 

More: Fact check: What’s true and what’s false about coronavirus?

Defining flu season

Flu seasons vary from year to year and don’t have a strict timeline. Last year, flu season was the longest in a decade, lasting 21 weeks.

“In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. While influenza viruses circulate year-round, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May,” the CDC website explains.

To account for this ambiguous period, the CDC releases weekly U.S. influenza summary updates from October through May. The CDC’s first report for the 2020-2021 flu season was posted for the week ending Oct. 3.

It’s too early to tell what this year’s flu season will bring, an epidemic expert said.

“We don’t know yet. We’re hopeful there’s fewer deaths, of course, and I think there are reasons to believe it will be fewer but we don’t really know at this point,” said David Aronoff, professor of medicine and director of the Infectious Disease Division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. 

Influenza-associated deaths last year were much lower than claimed

The CDC uses mathematical estimates to retroactively measure the burden of each flu season. 

After each flu season, the CDC considers in-hospital death data and investigates death certificates to account for the total flu deaths. “(B)ecause not all deaths related to influenza occur in the hospital, we use death certificate data to estimate how likely deaths are to occur outside the hospital,” the CDC website explains.

According to the CDC’s 2018-2019 estimates, there were 34,200 influenza-associated deaths from October 2018 to May 2019. For the 2019-2020 season, the CDC has released a preliminary estimate