COVID-19, caused by a particular strand of Coronavirus, has been rapidly spreading across the globe affecting millions of people. This terrifying pandemic has claimed the lives of several individuals, and it is unlikely to come to a halt any time soon. Although seven strains of coronavirus have been discovered by scientists, four of the strains are only known to lead to milder symptoms such as runny nose and cough. They are also quite common and affect every individual at least once without their knowledge. This is primarily due to the similarity in the symptoms of these coronavirus strains and other respiratory illnesses such as the common cold.
The remaining three strains of Coronavirus strains have been known to have severe virulent infections on the mass. Sars-CoV, more commonly known as SARS, led to an epidemic that affected a total of 8000 individuals and caused 774 deaths. Following this outbreak, a Coronavirus strain named MERs took the lives of hundreds of people in Saudi Arabia. COVID-19 is a direct result of the most recently discovered strain of the Coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV2. It first emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019, and eventually took the world by storm. In contrast to its predecessors, the symptoms of SARS-CoV2 are more pronounced and the mortality rate is significantly higher.
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Overview of the Flu
Similar to Coronavirus, influenza also directly affects the respiratory system and also displays very similar symptoms. There are mainly 4 types of Influenza:
Believed to be the most contagious influenza, Type A can swiftly infect large numbers of people while coming in contact with droplets of bodily fluids. You are likely to be affected by influenza A if you are near other afflicted individuals. Other than coughing and sneezing out in the open, conversing with others can also lead to the spread of the flu.
Moreover, the virus can also spread through a variety of fomites. Influenza A can be further classified into 18 separate hemagglutinin (H) subtypes and 11 neuraminidase (N) subtypes. The virus can connect to cells employing these two protein strains. During winter, this influenza affects individuals at a significantly higher rate. Type A can have an impact on both animals and humans, and it is responsible for causing seasonal flu. Furthermore, Type A influenza can cause pandemics such as Bird flu and Swine flu.
Just like Type A influenza, Type B is also very contagious and spreads mostly during the winter. Two lineages of Type B influenza have been discovered, namely Victoria and Yamagata. Moreover, this virus is also responsible for causing regional epidemics. In comparison to Type A, Type B can mutate at a significantly slower rate.
Unlike Type A and Type B influenza, Type C is relatively milder and is not very contagious. So, it is unlikely to cause seasonal epidemics.
Until now, no human cases of Type D influenza has been reported. It is mostly known for afflicting animals such as cattle.
Similarities and Dissimilarities between Coronavirus and the Flu
Many health experts have drawn comparisons between coronavirus infection and the flu (influenza). The ailments resulting from Coronavirus, including COVID-19, have all displayed similar symptoms to the flu. The symptoms for coronavirus and influenza can range from being asymptomatic to extremely severe and potentially fatal.
Other than that, they are both highly contagious and can be easily conveyed through close contact. Because of this, the same measures must be taken to prevent the spread of these viruses such as maintaining proper hand hygiene and covering one’s face while coughing. Good respiratory etiquettes are essential for limiting the transmission of both Coronavirus and the flu.
Despite the similarities between Coronavirus and the flu, researchers have also pinpointed several distinctions. Firstly, the median incubation period for Influenza is relatively shorter than the Coronavirus. This means symptoms of an influenza infection are likely to appear quicker than the symptoms of Coronavirus.
On top of that, influenza is also more contagious than coronavirus due to having a shorter serial interval of 3 days. Contrarily, the COVID-19 virus has a much longer serial interval ranging between 5-6 days. The flu is also likely to spread before the onset of symptoms. On the other hand, a few recent cases of COVID-19 indicate that some people can shed the virus during the pre-symptomatic phase. Moreover, it is even possible to shed the virus causing COVID-19 roughly 24-48 hours before symptoms appear.
Even though the direct comparison between the flu and Coronavirus is quite challenging, some researchers have also found higher reproductive numbers for the virus that causes COVID-19. It is estimated to range from 2 to 2.5 for COVID-19, while the reproductive number for influenza is much lower.
Influenza has a greater tendency of affecting pregnant women, children, individuals with critical health conditions, and the elderly. In contrast, children are less prone to being affected by COVID-19 than adults. Scientists have discovered very few cases for individuals falling in the 0-19 age group. Furthermore, earlier household transmission data indicates adults have a higher probability of infecting children. The elderly and people with underlying conditions have a significantly higher risk of being inflicted with Coronavirus.
Level of Severity of Coronavirus
Despite showing similar symptoms, both flu and Coronavirus affect people with different levels of severity. At present, the aggregate global indicates that a large proportion of individuals with COVID-19 infection experience either mild or no visible symptoms. About 15% of individuals experience severe symptoms, whereas only 5% of the infected are in critical condition. In comparison to the flu, Coronavirus has a greater proportion of severe and critical cases.
The COVID-19 symptoms generally appear between 1 to 14 days of infection, whereas flu symptoms usually appear much earlier. According to the latest findings, COVID-19 has a median incubation period of 5.1 days. Moreover, the symptoms for COVID-19 for both children and adults are quite similar.
The primary symptoms for COVID-19 include:
- Breathing difficulties
- Mucus/Phlegm formation
Other than these symptoms, some uncommon symptoms have also been reported. They include sore throat, loss of taste or smell, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Moreover, patients in critical condition are likely to be subject to ailments such as pneumonia, respiratory failure, and septic shock. COVID-19 is known to be harsh on patients with pre-existing medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease, respiratory illnesses like asthma, and bronchitis. These cases can worsen over time and prove to be fatal.
Researchers have traced several of these COVID-19 complications back to the cytokine release syndrome. The impact of COVID-19 on the body’s immune system leads to the disproportionate release of a protein called cytokine. This can cause critical blood clots in arteries and other body parts. This eventually results in tissue damage as well as organ failure in some cases.
Severely afflicted people often show a variety of observable signs and symptoms. Some of these symptoms include chest pain, slurred speech, numbness, chills, insomnia, bluish lips, and face. Patients with severe conditions can even have strokes. Therefore, it is necessary to seek medical help if you experience these symptoms or see someone showing signs of COVID-19.
The graph illustrates the most common symptoms experienced by people afflicted with COVID-19 based on research conducted in China. The highest proportion of people, close to 99%, has been suffering from a fever after being infected. Around 70% of people have experienced fatigue, while 59% have stated profuse coughing as the main symptom. On the contrary, only 27% of people had observed heavy mucus formation after being affected by the virus.
Although influenza is known to cure without medication, it can potentially lead to complications in certain people. These high-risk individuals include young children below 5 years, elderly people over 65 years, hospital and clinic staff, and obese people.
Individuals affected by the flu can experience a wide range of symptoms. Preliminary symptoms often include runny nose and mucus formation. The notable symptoms of influenza include:
- Muscle spasms
- High fever (above 38 Degrees Celsius)
- Sore throat
- Nasal Congestion
- Profuse coughing
Other than these symptoms, certain factors play a vital role in determining the likelihood of being afflicted with the flu. These risk factors generally include:
- Age: infants and very old people have a higher probability of being infected.
- Work conditions: People who are in close contact with infected individuals are likely to be affected as well. This generally includes both hospital staff and patients.
- Pre-existing medical conditions: People who have a weak immune system because of prior medical conditions such as cancer, HIV, diabetes, and asthma are at a higher risk of influenza infection.
- Obesity: Individuals with BMI above 40 are also at significant risk.
- Pregnancy: During the second and third trimester of pregnancy, women are at grave risk of developing influenza if they come in contact with infected individuals.
Finally, if influenza infection is kept untreated, it can cause severe complications among adults and children. These complications consist of ailments such as pneumonia, heart disease, bronchitis, asthma, and ear infection.
Deaths and Mortality rate
According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected close to 212 nations around the globe. As of now, nearly 4.5 billion people are living in isolation to prevent the spread of this petrifying virus. The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases stands at 4,722,233, while the global death toll has risen to 313,266. The total number of recovered cases amount to 1,812,214. Other than that, about 2,551,924 of the confirmed cases are mild or asymptotic, whereas roughly 44,829 cases are quite severe.
The US has the highest number of COVID-19 cases with nearly 1,507,773 infected people. On top of that, the death toll in the country is the largest at around 90,113. Followed by the USA, countries such as Spain, Russia, UK, Brazil, France, Italy, and Germany have all reported high numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Both Spain and Russia have the highest number of death tolls after the USA. The Death tolls of other nations are still below 300,000, indicating a great disparity between the mortality rates in the US and other top COVID-19 afflicted nations.
In comparison to Influenza, COVID-19 has an exponentially greater mortality rate. Even though we are still learning about the true mortality rate, estimations of World Health Organizations (WHO) suggests it is between 3 and 4%. Contrarily, the mortality rate of the flu sits at 0.1%. However, the true mortality rate can vary based on the quality of health care available in a country.
Other than COVID-19, other strains of Coronavirus have also led to sizable death tolls by causing the SARS and MERS epidemics. Two consecutive SARS outbreaks took place in 2002 and 2004, affecting individuals with acute pneumonia. Similar to COVID-19, SARS also emerged from China and rapidly made its way to other Asian countries. A few SARS cases were also reported in parts of the UK and Canada. A total of 8098 people were affected by SARS, and the global death toll had reached around 774. About 1 in 10 people suffering from SARS were at high risk of developing fatal complications. Just like COVID-19, people over the age of 65 had a higher likelihood of being afflicted with SARS. Following the SARS epidemic, a new strand of Coronavirus called MERS-CoV originated in Saudi Arabia. Despite affecting 27 countries, almost 80% of the cases were found in Saudi Arabia. Roughly 2519 people were infected with MERS of which 866 resulted in death.
In contrast to Coronavirus, the flu has a significantly lower death toll. The WHO data suggests the total of afflicted people to be close to 1 billion globally. According to the 2018-19 estimates of CDC, around 35.5 million people were affected by Influenza A viruses during the flu season. Most of these infections were a result of the H3N2 virus, while a few flu cases of H1N1pdm09 strain were found between October 2018 and February 2019. The total number of deaths caused by the flu stands at 34,157 during the period.
When comparing the effect on influenza on different age groups, it would seem that the death toll for the elderly aged above 65 was the highest at 25,555, whereas infants aged between 0-4 years had the lowest number of deaths. However, these figures may not portray the full extent of the flu’s effect on children as some pediatric deaths due to influenza-related complications may be under-reported.
Treatment and Prevention
A person experiencing the symptoms for COVID-19 can take a quick swab test that allows doctors to locate signs of the virus in the upper respiratory tract. This method involves using a swab in the nose and throat to obtain a sample of the virus, which is later tested in a lab. It is even possible to perform this entire procedure within 15 minutes in some areas.
As we are still in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, no proper over-the-counter medication is still not available to treat this viral infection. However, there are quite a few treatments that one can resort to for diagnosing certain types of flu. The most common treatment includes the use of antiviral medication to stop influenza infection from spreading. Antiviral medication can also prevent complications such as pneumonia. Some of the common antiviral medications for treating the flu consists of oseltamivir and baloxavir.
At the moment, researchers are performing numerous clinical trials to discover a medication or vaccine for diagnosing patients suffering from COVID-19. Nearly 20 vaccines are being developed all over the world. Till an appropriate drug is produced, medical professionals are solely focusing on treating the symptoms rather than the virus itself. This often includes measures for reducing fever and muscle spasms, utilizing ventilators for patients experiencing shortness of breath, and I.V hydration. Critical patients are usually placed on incubators for breathing assistance.
Some of the common methods for prevention of COVID-19 include:
- Repeatedly washing hands using soaps and hand rubs containing alcohol.
- Remain in isolation
- Maintaining at least 6 feet distance from people if you have to step outside your home.
- Use a proper face mask to cover your nose and mouth.
- Refrain from touching your face.
- Clean surfaces you touch with disinfectants.
Unlike COVID-19, there are already several home remedies and medications you can consume to diagnose the flu. The common measures against influenza include:
- Drinking lots of fluids.
- Get plenty of rest
- Use decongestants to open up your respiratory tract.
- Take cough syrup in case you have a sore throat
- Consume antiviral medications after consulting a physician.
- Take seasonal vaccines.
Despite displaying nearly identical symptoms, Coronavirus and the flu differ in their incubation periods, serial interval, reproduction rate, and mortality rate. The preventive measures taken to reduce the spread of both viruses are quite similar. However, COVID-19 has proven to cause critical ailments in individuals, and it has resulted in an exponentially higher death toll all over the world. The transmission rate is also much higher for COVID-19 than for the flu. Therefore, it is very important to exercise caution in such difficult times and follow the preventive guidelines outlined by health and medical experts.