Sunday, July 12, 2020

Is Coronavirus Different from the 'Flu'?

Early on, when the first coronavirus infections starting springing up in the U.S, I wondered if these infections and the threat they posed were truly qualitatively different from seasonal influenza.  As I became more informed, I recognized that the health experts were correct; this is not the flu.

I was not persuaded, however, by the high mortality rates which were initially quoted.  Even today, we will hear and read that mortality rate for COVID-19 may be 10 times higher than that of seasonal flu, which is in the range of 0.1%.  We simply cannot make such an assertion authoritatively. The truth is that may be grossly overestimating COVID-19 mortality for a simple mathematical reason – we simply don’t know the extent of infected Americans who have mild disease or remain asymptomatic.  With widespread testing, we will likely verify that the percentage of COVID-19 fatalities is much lower than originally thought.  In simple terms, the larger the population segment there is with mild disease, the lower the mortality rate will be.   When the dust clears, we may find that mortality rate to approach that of ‘the flu’.  Let's all hope so.

But even if the mortality rates are similar, the threat of the 2 viruses is quite different. 

The 'Flu' vs Coronavirus!

Experts have pointed out that the novel coronavirus is more contagious than seasonal flu.  An individual infected with seasonal influenza transmits the infection to 1.3 others.  In contrast, those infected with the novel coronavirus at it's peak was believed to be transmitting the infection to multiple people, although its contagiousness has been revised as more data accumulates.  So, coronavirus can reach a larger population more efficiently and deeply than the ‘flu’ can.

While the ‘flu shot’ is not an ideal vaccine, it does offer us some protection.  There is no vaccine against coronavirus.  And, many of us have some partial natural immunity against the ‘flu’, as we have been exposed to various 'flu' strains that descend upon us each year.  The novel coronavirus is new on the scene, so our immune systems are more vulnerable and less equipped to battle it.
And, finally, there are effective treatments for the ‘flu’ and very few therapeutic options for coronavirus, despite the false claims that chloroquine andhydroxychloroquine were gamechangers. 

What does all this mean?   Well, without natural immunity, a vaccine or any effective treatment, it becomes imperative to avoid infection.  Are you familiar with the phrase, social distancing?  It has been dismaying to see so many of us mingling closely in bars and restaurants without a mask in sight.  And, just this week, case rates in the majority of U.S. states are increasing raising fears of more illness, hospitalizations, deaths, economic lockdowns and fear.   Is wearing a mask and keeping one's distance really too much to expect?

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