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We have all been influenced by the comparisons between influenza and novel coronavirus. Both cause respiratory disease, yet there are important differences between the two viruses and how they spread. This means that the measurements to be taken are very much different.

Similarity between COVID-19 and influenza viruses:

To begin with, COVID-19 and influenza viruses are similar to each other by means of their presentation. That is, they both cause respiratory disease, “ (…) which presents as a wide range of illness from asymptomatic or mild through to severe disease and death.”(1)

 

Symptoms

COVID-19 (symptoms range from mild to severe)

Flu (rapid onset of symptoms)

Aches and pains

Sometimes

Common

Cough*

Common

Common

Diarrhoea

Sometimes in children

Sometimes, especially in children

Fatigue

Sometimes

Common

Fever or chills*

Common

Common

Headaches

Sometimes

Common

Loss of taste or smell*

Sudden

Rare

Nausea or vomiting

Rare

Sometimes

Runny or stuffy nose

Rare

Sometimes

Shortness of breath

Sometimes

No

Sneezing

No

No

Sore throat

Sometimes

Sometimes

*A new continuous cough, a high temperature and a loss or change in sense of smell or taste are the main symptoms of COVID-19.

Table 1: Comparison of COVID-19, flu and cold symptoms by Pharmaceutical Journal. (2020) (3) [adapted for FluAI]

“Secondly, both viruses are transmitted by contact, droplets and fomites. As a result, the same public health measures, such as hand hygiene and good respiratory etiquette (coughing into your elbow or into a tissue and immediately disposing of the tissue), are important actions all can take to prevent infection.”

Here is an infographic (2) by Johns Hopkins Medicine to illuminate how to prevent flu during COVID-19 pandemic:

The similarities which have been clearly stated by WHO are a glad news to those who read it the first time. As a fact we have been warned by authorities that we should take COVID-19 much more seriously, which in fact is already true and we will not argue that. But one should also consider the ways to protect themselves from the influenza virus.

When the COVID-19 outbreak was in the beginning stages we heard the fact that the mortality rates of influenza virus were much higher than the COVID-19 and that is why it is not a global problem – which we should clarify that is not true, you must take extra measurements, such as physical distance from strangers, to protect yourself from the pandemic. We would like to just take a closer look to mortality rates of influenza and how those rates are influenced by some factors. By doing so we believe that the remaining confusion about this topic will be clarified.

To understand the difference between COVID-19 and influenza viruses:

A pathogenic virus (a virus that may cause diseases) enters the host and there is a period until the host shows some symptoms. This is called a median incubation period. The median incubation period of influenza virus is shorter than that of COVID-19 virus.

The time between consecutive cases is called the serial interval. The serial interval of influenza virus (3 days) is also shorter than that of COVID-19 virus (5-6 days), which means that influenza is able to spread faster than COVID-19.

Children are important transmitters of influenza virus in the community. For COVID-19 virus it is estimated to be the opposite, that the adults transmit the virus more than the children. It is important to stress the fact that to prevent seasonal influenza the kindergartens are primary concerns.

Those who are most at risk for severe influenza infection are children, pregnant women, elderly, those with underlying chronic medical conditions and those who are immunosuppressed. 

For seasonal influenza, mortality is usually well below 0.1%. This means that As many as half-a-million people around the world die annually by flu. And it should also be considered that the mortality is mostly determined by access to and quality of health care.

FluAI is also here for you during the pandemic to assist you for upper respiratory infections such as flu. With machine learning you can decide more confidently what to do in the flu season. 

References:

  1. Q&A: Influenza and COVID-19 – similarities and differences. Who.int. (2020). Retrieved 5 October 2020, from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-similarities-and-differences-covid-19-and-influenza?gclid=CjwKCAjwiOv7BRBREiwAXHbv3CkjtgLBRTPPZsCsOr5yUtgC9yC85GC25SuupxJouWay75PuqlHK1xoC36UQAvD_BwE.
  2. Flu Prevention During Coronavirus Pandemic: Infographic. (2020). Retrieved 6 October 2020, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Health/Conditions-and-Diseases/Coronavirus/Flu-Prevention-And-Coronavirus-Infographic
  3. Differential diagnosis: cold, flu or COVID-19?. Pharmaceutical Journal. (2020). Retrieved 6 October 2020, from https://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/cpd-and-learning/learning-article/differential-diagnosis-cold-flu-or-covid-19/20208379.article?firstPass=false

 

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