Why getting a COVID is still not the same as the flu – even if it’s “normal”

Healthcare workers are saying this, friends are saying this: COVID-19 is becoming as common and familiar to us as the flu. But experts point out that there are still limitations to this comparison – COVID is still not a common flu.

Leaders of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wrote in an article published in the Journal of the American on Monday that “it’s time to accept that the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is the new norm.” Medical Association. “It will take its place along with other common respiratory viruses, such as the flu, and will spread around the world in the near future.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, experts noted that comparing the flu with COVID-19 was highly politicized – a way to minimize a new disease that could kill nearly a million people in the United States. But now, with the widely available vaccines and treatments, it is appropriate to compare the two.

“Today, for a person vaccinated and amplified, the chances of a serious outcome are comparable to the flu,” the doctor said. Bob Wachter, Department of Medicine, UCSF. He noted that Paxlovid, an antiviral pill that treats COVID-19, further reduces the risk of death.

For example, in the Bay Area, where the vast majority of people are vaccinated, all serious forms of COVID-19, including hospitalization and mortality, are much lower than in the winter of 2020-2021. .

Po Lin Louis (right) talks to Jose Rodriguez (center) in San Francisco, a registered nurse at the Department of Public Health; , November 5, 2020, Influenza at the Resource Hub of the Latin Accuracy Forces in San Francisco, California.

Lea Suzuki / Chronicle

For many, the experience of getting COVID may be similar to that of a person with the flu – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that it can be difficult to differentiate between symptoms.

But there are still major differences between the two infectious diseases, and they are how much we can learn from the annual flu.

The appearance of the disease may be similar in both, but the underlying viruses are still quite different, Dr. Jorge Salinas, an infectious disease assistant at Stanford, – and the virus that causes COVID-19 – is still not well understood.

He compared the viruses that interact with our immune systems to a football match: catching the flu is like playing for a team you know well. There may be surprises and disappointments, but we generally know what to expect.

But getting COVID is something else entirely.

“COVID is a very secretive team. We don’t know much about them and they may not play by the rules of the game,” he said.

Experts also noted that COVID is more contagious than the flu, which means it infects more people and causes severe illness and death.

“There was never a time when you looked around and knew a lot of people with the flu,” Wachter added.

According to experts, COVID also causes long-term consequences, including neurological complications, heart disease and diabetes, and the flu is not widespread.

“I don’t want to worry, but there are some viral diseases that don’t show up until 10-20 years later,” Salinas said. “I believe we do not yet know the full scale of the short, medium and long-term manifestations of COVID-19.”

Finally, according to experts, COVID is still new and unpredictable, and it can’t be compared to the seasonal flu that comes and goes in the winter. Although COVID shows signs of deterioration during the winter, such as the flu, it is often the result of behaviors such as spending more time at home.

“I think there will be some seasonal, seasonal change, but I have yet to see a decrease in the level of infection in the warmer months,” Salinas said.

Experts note that the growth of COVID can occur at any time of the year, and there is no way to predict what new, more infectious variants will recur.

“At the moment, it’s been too frequent to say that it’s going to be like the flu season,” said Myong Cha, president of home care and chief strategic officer at Carbon Health, previously told The Chronicle.

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