Understanding the Fine Line between Seasonal Influenza and COVID-19

Starting off as a simple virus emerging from Wuhan, China, COVID-19, or the Novel Coronavirus, has brought the entire world to a halt. Be it economic, judicial or educational prospects, there is no clear picture as to what the future holds for us. With the virus currently holding an overall tally of 40,636 deaths and 8,23, 479 positive cases worldwide (as of 31st March, 2020), the pandemic has now become a life-threatening global phenomenon forcing numerous countries to impose lockdowns.

However, in this time when social distancing and hand hygiene play key roles, one more important aspect must be considered- correct information. While we are getting to know about numerous cases, another problem prevalent in most countries is the high number of people flocking to hospitals for testing even when they show flu-like symptoms, like a cold or mild fever. While it is certainly true that there is only a stark contrast between seasonal influenza (flu) and COVID-19, it manages to pose a major problem: it has not only increased traffic in the hospitals but also diverted the attention of hospital staff from cases that require immediate attention.

Thus, here are a few indicators which might be helpful in differentiating between the common flu and the Novel Coronavirus.

1. Difference in Major Symptoms

A COVID-19 patient will typically suffer from a fever; however, it is not necessary that every individual with flu will have a fever, particularly older adults or those with a weak immune system. While nausea and diarrhea are symptoms for both diseases, they are more prevalent in kids suffering from flu.

If the patient shows signs of dry coughing and shortness of breath, that’s more of an inclination towards a case of COVID-19.

2. Difference in Incubation Period

While a COVID-19 patient takes an average of four days between the initiation of the infection and the onset of symptoms, the incubation period ranges between 2 and 14 days. On the other hand, a flu patient’s incubation period ranges between 1 and 4 days, averaging at 2 days.

3. Difference in Period of Contagion

One of the major threats related to COVID-19 is that it can be contagious even if the patient doesn’t show symptoms. On the other hand, flu can be contagious a day before the symptoms appear, and for nearly 5-7 consequent days thereafter.

4. Difference in Severity and Course

The seasonal influenza or common flu usually takes nearly 3-7 days to resolve, with just 1% of the patients ending up in the hospital. The deathly COVID-19, on the other hand, lands nearly 20% of the confirmed cases in the hospital in a critical condition.

5. Effect on the Immune System

Believed to have an animal origin, the COVID-19 is caused by a newly discovered coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, a novel virus. This signifies that the population doesn’t have pre-existing immunity to it, which makes it more difficult to prevent the disease from becoming fatal.

Seasonal flu, on the other side, is a disease which can recur, with the body developing antibodies each time. This reduces the extent to which the disease can affect the human body. However, for COVID-19, there is no current evidence to prove whether an individual can get it again post-recovery.

6. Difference in Mortality Rate

Based on information collected from different locations and using various population sizes, it has been gathered that 0.25-3% of the total population testing positive for COVID-19 succumbs to it. In the case of seasonal flu, the esteemed mortality rates are a mere 0.1% in comparison.

7. Difference in Rate of Transmission

With COVID-19 cases multiplying rapidly each day, the reproductive number (R0) for the disease appears to be higher than that of the seasonal flu, with the former being 2.2 and the latter, 1.28.

This is a clear indicator that a patient of COVID-19 is more likely to infect more people as compared to an individual suffering from flu.

8. Difference in Developed Vaccines and Medication

As a result of a novel coronavirus, COVID-19 is yet to have a valid vaccine or effective medication available for the general public. In the case of seasonal flu, however, the seasonal flu vaccine proves to be most effective. Antiviral medications also help to an enormous extent.

9. Difference in Target Population at Risk

While both flu and COVID-19 affect similar ranges of the population, especially those already suffering from asthma, chronic lung diseases, diabetes etc., the latter is found to have a more severe effect on the older population. Flu, however, is found to be more dangerous in the case of pregnant women and children under the age of 2 years.

10. Difference in Prevention Methods

Due to the nature of both diseases as well as their high rates of contagiousness, remaining in isolation is recommended, though more in the case of COVID-19. Also, COVID-19 highlights the need to maintain good hand hygiene (regular washing of hands with soap or alcohol-based sanitizer) and social distancing i.e. remaining at home if not in case of emergencies, maintaining a distance of 6 feet from another individual at all times and avoiding crowded places like malls and restaurants with heavy footfall.

In the case of flu, proper medication, rest and good nutrition are recommended to heal. Regular flu shots also play a key role in the prevention and faster cure of the disease.

Although remarkably similar in nature, both COVID-19 and Seasonal Influenza, on the deeper end, vary to a great extent. While COVID-19 has proved to be comparatively fatal and easily transmittable, flu is seen as a recurring phenomenon, largely treatable.

In these trying times, when most of the world is living under self-quarantine and isolation, we must remember that the first and foremost requirement is to bring the COVID-19 outbreak under control. Thus, upon showing any symptoms, we must consult a family doctor before crowding hospitals to get a seasonal flu treatment, which can be done from home!

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