Coronavirus Vs common flu: Key facts to know

By Dr Suhail Naik

Srinagar: The flu and coronavirus are trending family of viruses these days. Both the virus is respiratory viruses and human respiratory system is their favourite place of survival though they can infect many other organ systems. COVID-19 is caused by one virus, the novel 2019 coronavirus, now called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. Flu is  caused by any of several different types and strains of influenza viruses.

Both the viruses result in almost similar symptoms and cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue; sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms can be mild or severe, even fatal in rare cases. Both of viruses can lead to severe pneumonia with respiratory failure or ARDS.

As far as transmission is concerned both can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing or talking.

Flu can be spread by an infected person for several days before their symptoms appear, and COVID-19 is believed to be spread in the same manner, but we don’t yet know for sure.

Looking and comparing the epidemiology between two viruses on available data, it seems, so far coronavirus is deadlier and fatal than flu. On average, the seasonal flu strain kills (case fatality rate) about 0.1 percent of people who become infected. As far as coronavirus death rate or case fatality rate is concerned, early estimates from Wuhan China suggest it is around 2 percent. That is case fatality rate with coronavirus is 20 times more than flu viruses.

So far this flu season, about 0.05% of people who caught the flu have died from the virus in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data.

In the study published February 18 in the China CDC Weekly, researchers found a death rate from COVID-19 to be around 2.9% in mainland China. That’s much higher than the death rate linked to flu, which is typically around 0.1% in the U.S., according to The New York Times.

Even so, the death rate for COVID-19 varied by location and an individual’s age, among other factors. For instance, in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak, the death rate reached 2.9%; in other provinces of China, that rate was just 0.4%. In addition, older adults have been hit the hardest. The death rate soars to 14.8% in those 80 and older; among those ages 70 to 79, the COVID-19 death rate in China seems to be about 8%; it’s 3.6% for those aged 60 to 69; 1.3% for 50 to 59; 0.4% for the age group 40 to 49; and just 0.2% for people ages 10 to 39. Nobody 9 and under has died of this coronavirus to date.

However the rate could be low if it is assumed that many cases might not have been detected because they are so mild or even symptom-free. But same stands true for flu viruses as large number of cases are asymptomatic, mild and self-abortive and they never seek medical attention or get recorded.

Further, like influenza, the coronavirus is most dangerous to people over the age of 65, or who have chronic illness like diabetes, asthma, COPD, chronic kidney failure, cancer or a weak immune system.

But for the total number of people who have been infected by these viruses, it is apparent that the flu has sickened more people than the coronavirus. In the United States, there have been 32 million cases of flu, several hundred thousand hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths, according to the CDC. By contrast, about 70 people in the United States have been infected with the new coronavirus, and there has been one death, which was reported.

There are currently 29 cases of COVID-19 in the US. Still, newly emerged viruses like this one are always of public health concern, according to the CDC. It’s unclear how the situation with this virus in the US will unfold, the agency said. Some people, such as health care workers, are at increased risk for exposure to COVID-19.

The areas where the two ailments diverge grossly are:

1. There is no treatment or antiviral for coronavirus. There is no approved antiviral drug for the coronavirus, but several are being tested. For those infected with any viral illness, doctors recommend rest, symptomatic treatment to reduce pain and fever, and fluids to avoid dehydration. For the flu, doctors can offer antivirals and they tend to work best within a day or two of when symptoms start.

2. There are no coronavirus vaccinations available, but it may be available in a year or two. Flu vaccines are widely available and generally 40 percent to 60 percent effective. The researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health are in the early stages of developing one. Officials plan to launch a phase 1 clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 within the next three months.

In general, the CDC recommends the following to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, which include both coronaviruses and flu viruses:

1.       Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;

2.       Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;

3.       Avoid close contact with people who are sick;

4.       Stay home when you are sick; and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

(The author is a consultant pediatrician and president Doctor’s Association of Kashmir.)

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