We should treat COVID like Norovirus, not the flu


BBecause the symptoms of COVID (fever, cough and pain) are similar flu symptoms, it is tempting to compare the two. In fact, the new UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, he said recently: “We will have to learn to accept Covid’s existence and find ways to deal with it, as we already do with the flu.”

But did we choose the wrong disease to compare COVID-19 with? Outside of a pandemic, we accept that seasonal flu is an infection that anyone can suffer from. We vaccinate only those who are especially prone to complications and treat people with serious side effects, such as pneumonia. Otherwise, people are left to do their business. Global deaths from influenza-related illness are usually around 400,000 every year.

While we need to find some way to live with COVID-19, the numbers suggest that we are still a long way from being able to treat it the same way. There has been more than 180 million cases worldwide since early 2020 and at least 4 million people have died from the disease. Also, we are not sure of the actual effect of long CVVID However, but lasting symptoms are common, with one in ten people he still has illness 12 weeks after infection. Currently, the effect on COVID-19 health in the population is much greater than influenza.

We also know that COVID-19 is more infectious. We can be sure because, over the past 18 months, measures to control COVID-19 have reduced flu cases to almost none, but they have obviously not been as effective at stopping the spread of coronavirus. The cases were close to zero in the southern hemisphere during its winter in mid-2020 and back to Europe and North America between November 2020 and March 2021. Even in countries with high COVID-19 rates, such as South Africa and the UK, in winter almost no cases of influenza were recorded.

All of this suggests that the use of methods commonly used to combat the flu will have a quite different effect on COVID-19. COVID-19 treatment like the flu will result in many more cases and deaths, and a much more persistent illness, than those seen in a typical flu season.

Another comparison

Of course, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, shares some characteristics with influenza viruses, making comparisons tempting. Around 20% of people have no symptoms at all when they are infected with SARS-CoV-2, and a lot of people infected with an influenza virus do not get sick either. Both viruses are prone to many mutations. And with both diseases, the elderly and people with a weakened immune system are at greater risk for disease than healthy young adults, with infections spreading rapidly to nursing homes, hospitals and schools.

But many of these traits are also shared by another germ: the norovirus. It can also be asymptomatic in some people, and mutates rapidly: different strains of circulating norovirus have been found around the same hospital for a season. In fact, as it spreads, the norovirus sometimes changes so much that standard test kits i can’t recognize it versions of this that have evolved.

Most people with symptomatic norovirus infections have diarrhea, but there are also projectile vomiting. This creates a virus-filled spray that spreads through any room and leaves it on surfaces, waiting for others to pick it up, as with respiratory viruses. COVID-19 as well causes diarrhea in some patients. Influenza is not the only viral disease with which COVID-19 can be compared.

Likewise, there are many differences between SARS-CoV-2 and norovirus, so why compare it? Well, as vaccines and other control measures control the virus, more and more parts of the world are joining those others in which blockages have been lifted, social distancing rules have been relaxed, and it’s safe to say leave home without wearing a mask. But we still have to wait for outbreaks of COVID-19 for years to come and we need to have plans to deal with them as they arise.

Knowing what we know about these viruses, these plans should consider SARS-CoV-2 control more like norovirus than flu. With norovirus, we keep people with the infection away from others. We ask parents whose children have symptoms to keep them out of school. And in hospitals and nursing homes, norovirus patients are breastfed separately from others, staff use PPE as protection, and surfaces are thoroughly cleaned. Handling COVID-19 in the future should be more interventionist like this. It should be more like living with norovirus than flu.

In the meantime, we have developed good hygiene habits during the pandemic, such as washing our hands a little more often and ventilating buildings better. Those who can wear a mask should think about keeping it indoors and on public transportation. These simple measures should help stop the spread of many viral diseases (either against the flu, norovirus, or COVID-19) before larger interventions are needed.

Sarah Pitt, Professor of Microbiology and Practices in Biomedical Sciences, member of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, University of Brighton

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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