Why we shouldn’t compare SARS-CoV-2 with the Influenza (Flu) virus?

SARS-CoV-2 is a virus, just like the Influenza (aka Flu) virus. Both viruses affect the lower respiratory system, which means they have the ability to attack our lungs.

  • To put it simply, depending on the state of our immune system, when we inhale infected air into our lungs, we either
    • prevent the inhaled viruses from doing any damage at all or
      • we stop them from doing too much damage or
        • we are unable to stop the virus from gaining a foothold and using us as a food source.

A person carrying the Flu virus can spread the virus by coughing, sneezing, laughing, talking or even just breathing out virus laced droplets and aerosols. Aerosols are smaller than droplets in size and consequently, are able to stay aloft in circulated air longer, and are able to reach deeper into the lungs.

  • The new coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2 – spreads in pretty much the same manner.

The Influenza virus is not a new virus.

  • Our last big pandemic with the Flu virus was in 1918 when it is reported to have killed 50 million people worldwide!
  • IF a virus with that kind of pathogenesis (disease causing ability) were to infect us today, we would be better able to prevent those kinds of fatalities because of
    • surveillance,
    • data sharing,
    • use of platform technology which enables vaccine production in 2 years or under, and
    • optimized drug discovery.
      • Add to that a robust public health infrastructure which helps with quick diagnosis, public health messaging and tools, and we are now able to deal with most infectious threats, given enough time and data analysis.

How bad are the two viruses?

Reported mortality rates for COVID-19 (disease caused by SARS-CoV-2) range from 2 to 4%, far higher than the seasonal flu mortality rate of 0.1%. It is likely that the COVID-19 mortality rate will come down, once we analyze the final numbers.

  • Every year, as we head into Flu season, we roll out
    • seasonal vaccines,
    • public service announcements,
    • rapid diagnostic techniques, as well as
    • anti-viral drugs to reduce the severity of the illness,
      • all of which are also reasons why we should not be comparing SARS-CoV-2 with the Flu virus.
  • We have great public service announcements for SARS-CoV-2, but no vaccine yet, for which we may have to wait at least another 18 months. We don’t have enough diagnostic kits and we don’t have any FDA approved anti-viral drugs (yet) against the new virus, although we are testing the effectiveness of potential drugs in clinical trials. 

Which behaviors do we encourage in the community, to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections?

We use a lot of the techniques we use with Flu prevention:

  • proper cough and sneeze etiquette,
  • keeping hands clean,
  • wiping down common use areas with disinfectants so that you minimize surfaces from acting as a source of transmission of the virus,
  • staying home when sick, so you minimize chances of infecting others, especially those with compromised immune systems, either due to disease or old age,
  • managing chronic illnesses, and
  • calling your healthcare provider if you are unable to breathe (this symptom may be seen both in Flu and in COVID-19).

WHY are we scared of SARS-CoV-2?

SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that is infecting humans for the first time.

  • It may be weeks to months by the time this virus plateaus or establishes itself as a seasonal virus or disappears altogether.
    • The point is, we won’t know until we get there.

What we do know for a fact is that it seems to be primarily infecting the elderly, the immunocompromised, and those with chronic conditions – a demographic that is at greater risk of any infection.

  • Which begs the question, why aren’t we doing all that we can, and encouraging everyone we can, to engage in urgent prevention of other infections, besides SARS-CoV-2?
    • It has taken a virus – a spillover from the animal world into humans – to highlight what’s lacking in our public health endeavors.
      • We should, at all be times be engaged in proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
      • We should, at all times, be conscientious of how clean our hands are, before we touch our faces, and before we pick up that cookie and pop it into our mouths.
        • We are far better off nodding our heads, folding our hands in namaste or bowing our heads, instead of shaking hands.
          • Thought to have been around for thousands of years, the ancient handshake conveyed peaceful intentions, absence of weapons hidden in the sleeve or a harmless greeting.
            • The modern-day handshake on the other hand, serves as a touchy way to transfer germs.
              • Let’s do away with it once and for all.

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