Experts urge the public to stay calm amid the coronavirus pandemic. As important as such advice is, however, it’s critical, also, to take it seriously. It can be a mistake to go by the superficial similarities that it shares with influenza and let your guard down.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from the flu each year, and it doesn’t lead to quarantines and shutdowns. This is a fact that many point out, in an effort to get people to stop fearing the coronavirus pandemic as much as they do. On March 9, even president Trump wrote on Twitter to express astonishment that 37,000 Americans died from the flu in 2019, and nothing was shut down for it. Why do the health authorities ask people to put up with social distancing rules and shutdowns for the coronavirus, when it’s killed only a few hundred?
The truth is, there are important ways in which the COVID-19 disease differs from the flu.
What are the differences between the Coronavirus and the Flu?
Both influenza and COVID-19 are viral infections, and both conditions come with similar symptoms involving high temperatures, a cough, and fatigue. The onset of symptoms tends to be quick with influenza, however, and gradual with COVID-19. When adults contract the common flu, there is an incubation period of two days. People can infect others a full day before any symptoms show up, and for up to a week after they become sick. With COVID-19, however, the incubation period appears to be about five days, on average, far longer than diseases like the common cold that are caused by other coronaviruses.
These diseases are caused by viruses, and neither is treatable with antibiotics. Influenza has afflicted human populations for centuries, however, and the human body has developed a certain level of immunity to it over many generations. In addition, modern medicine has several vaccines that offer humans immunity against the disease. Not only is there no vaccine in place for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, scientists even fear that the virus could mutate quickly, and take on other forms that are harder to develop vaccines for.
Another area of major difference exists for Coronavirus and Flu
The familiar seasonal flu may affect millions of people each year, but the thousands that it kills amount to a fatality rate of less than one-tenth of one percent, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. COVID-19, on the other hand, has affected thousands but has managed to kill hundreds. Experts rate COVID-19 ten times more lethal than common influenza.
Humans also possess herd immunity to the flu. This means that since the flu has been around for thousands of years, there are enough people in the general population who have developed immunity to it. They protect those who don’t possess immunity. With COVID-19, however, the virus involved is new to the human population. There is no inbuilt herd immunity that human populations have to take advantage of, and there are no vaccines or treatments available, either.
What you should know about Covid-19
As much knowledge as experts are gaining about the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to understand that testing for COVID-19 isn’t widely available the way testing is available for the common flu. It is currently challenging for the authorities to reckon in an accurate way, how quickly the disease spreads. Chances are, it spreads even more quickly than current estimates predict.
Currently, varying estimates place the fatality rate at between 1.4 percent and 3.4 percent of those infected. According to a study released by JAMA that looked at more than 70,000 COVID-19 cases in China, the fatality rate seen with the disease varies widely, depending on the ages of those affected. In the study, no fatalities were seen in children under the age of nine. The death rate rises to eight percent for those between the ages of 70 and 80, however, and to more than 14 percent among those over eighty. Those with pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes suffer elevated fatality rates, as well, up to 10 percent. Most concerning of all, when people become critically ill with COVID-19, the fatality rate rises to 49 percent.
These numbers demonstrate that the novel coronavirus is far more dangerous than the common flu. The fatality numbers for the disease are far greater than anything seen for the flu, by many orders of magnitude. If it doesn’t appear to have taken much of a toll so far, it’s only because it’s early days yet.
There is still a lot that experts don’t know about the Coronavirus
Considering how new COVID-19 is, medical science does know a great deal about it. Current knowledge isn’t nearly enough, however. Considerable risks may lie hidden in what isn’t known yet about the disease. The coronavirus pandemic, with its higher fatality rates, threatens to place far greater pressure on health systems than the common flu. At the moment, common precautions such as social distancing and good hygiene habits are the best precautions that people have against the disease. In these ways, COVID-19 is similar to the flu – prevention is the best way to proceed.