Wednesday | 06 May | 2020
By Marli Naidoo
Everyone has an opinion about Covid-19, and many like to share their opinions on social media. Some individuals agree with the group who believes that Covid-19 is mere flu and that the world is exaggerating, while others believe that Covid-19 is serious and that all of us just have to abide by the rules. And then, of course, there is always the handful who believes that Covid-19 does not even exist. So what are the facts, what is the big fuss about?
Covid-19 does indeed exist, and it’s not SARS, MERS or flu. It is a unique virus with unique characteristics.
According to data collected by the World Health Organisation (WHO), flu and Covid-19 are both respiratory illnesses, spread by small drops of moisture from the nose and mouth of someone who is ill.
However, there are important differences between flu and Covid-19.
Covid-19 is not transferred as effectively as flu. Flu is in many cases spread by individuals who are infected but not yet ill, which apparently is not the case with Covid-19.
Covid-19 however causes a much worse state of illness than seasonal flu. While scores of people worldwide have built up immunity against flu strains, Covid-19 is a new virus against which no-one has immunity. This means that more people are susceptible to the illness, and some will become seriously ill or even die.
The WHO estimates that annually worldwide flu epidemics lead to approximately 3 to 5 million cases of serious illnesses and approximately 250 000 deaths. At the time of writing, there were 3.43 million confirmed Covid-19 cases worldwide, with 244 000 deaths. These figures are calculated as from the outbreak at the end of 2019. There are vaccines and therapeutic medications against seasonal flu, but no vaccine and no specific treatment for Covid-19. If more people were vaccinated against flu, deaths incurred by flu could also diminish.
Worldwide approximately 3.4% of the reported Covid-19 cases die. In comparison, the deaths due to seasonal flu usually is less than 1% of those infected.
Why are we not locked down for seasonal flu, but locked down for Covid-19? We still stand a chance to bring Covid-19 under control, and prevent many deaths. Every life matters. However, it is impossible to control and lock down seasonal flu.
These differences mean that doctors cannot treat Covid-19 in exactly the same way as flu. However, there are enough similarities that allow medical research to not have to start right from the beginning. Many countries have for decades been investing in the building of their systems to trace flu and react to it, and these systems can be used to combat Covid-19.
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—3-march-2020#:~:text=COVID%2D19%20causes%20more,%25%20of%20those%20infected.
Lung Institute: https://lunginstitute.co.za/2020/03/04/new-tb-meningitis-test-beats-the-rest-3/
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-similarities-and-differences-covid-19-and-influenza
National Institute for Communicable Disease: https://www.nicd.ac.za/diseases-a-z-index/covid-19/
* All information was correct at the time of publication.