A graph spreading on Facebook gets it wrong on flu vs Covid deaths

28th Aug 2020

Claim

Flu caused more deaths in the UK than Covid-19 did between 19 June and 31 July.

Conclusion

This compares how many death certificates mentioned flu and/or pneumonia, compared to those which mentioned Covid-19. This doesn’t mean they were mentioned as the underlying cause of death. There are almost certainly fewer deaths where flu is the underlying cause compared to Covid-19.

A post on Facebook has claimed that influenza (flu) caused more deaths in the UK than Covid-19 between 19 June and 31 July.

This is based on a misunderstanding of figures from the Office for National Statistics, which counts deaths in England and Wales.

Despite several media reports suggesting otherwise, the figures show the number of deaths where flu and/or pneumonia, or Covid-19 were mentioned on the death certificate, but this does not mean they were listed as the underlying cause of death. 

So these aren’t necessarily cases where people died “of” these diseases, because in many cases flu and pneumonia are mentioned as factors in a death where the underlying cause was something else.

The graph and the text of the Facebook post comes from a MailOnline article which makes the same error.

We don’t know how many people are dying of flu at the moment, but it’s certainly fewer than this post suggests, and there are almost certainly fewer deaths where flu is identified as the underlying cause compared to Covid-19. With pneumonia included, there are probably more people dying of pneumonia and flu than the number dying of Covid-19, but not by margins as high as the graph suggests.

We’ve written in depth on this topic here.