Covid-19 is not a rebrand of flu

3 March 2021
What was claimed

Covid-19 is a rebrand of flu

Our verdict

Covid-19 is not a rebrand of flu. Although there has been a reduction of flu this year there is no evidence to suggest that Covid-19 is simply influenza in a new guise. Not least because they are caused by different organisms.

A Facebook post suggests influenza was “rebranded” as Covid-19 last year, comparing it to the way Marathon chocolate bars were rebranded as Snickers bars in the 1990s. It is not correct that Covid-19 is simply a “rebrand” of the flu. 

This is a common narrative on social media which claims that the Covid-19 pandemic is not due to a new virus, and is actually just the flu. It draws on that fact that there has been a significant reduction in cases of flu this year, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have written about similar claims many times before

As described by the World Health Organisation (WHO), cases of influenza in the UK are lower this year. Public Health England said this can be attributed to a combination of factors. These include behavior changes such as social distancing, wearing gloves and masks and record numbers of flu vaccine uptake. We also need to consider that many people may have chosen not to seek medical attention this year with milder flu-like symptoms due to stay at home messaging and concern around the risks of contracting SARS-CoV-2 whilst attending healthcare settings.

Flu and Covid-19 infections (and many other viral infections) share some similar characteristics. People with Covid-19 may experience flu-like symptoms, they can both spread through droplets and direct contact and have similar incubation periods. 

Flu and Covid are not, however, caused by the same pathogen (the organism that causes disease), and are therefore distinct illnesses. Covid-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and ‘flu’ is caused by different types of influenza virus.

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