Ministers have changed their messaging as England looks to relax coronavirus restrictions. It seems that we have reached a tipping point where rules will be replaced with personal decisions in the fight against the pandemic. Living with coronavirus is the same as with seasonal flu.
There have been many comparisons made between influenza and coronavirus since the pandemic. However, there are some commonalities. Both can be deadly and contagious respiratory viruses. They can be spread via droplets, aerosols and contaminated surfaces. They share many of the same symptoms, including fatigue, fever, and cough. The NHS will have to distinguish the Covid cases from flu cases in the winter.
There are some striking differences between flu and coronavirus that can be very important for public health. Coronavirus can spread faster than influenza, and cause more severe illness. Coronavirus symptoms can be more difficult to spot and are more likely to spread to others.
Because seasonal influenza has been around for so long, previous infections and immunity to vaccines have helped reduce the number of cases and deaths. Analysing previous flu outbreaks shows that the R value of seasonal flu, which is the number of people the virus can be passed on to, averages around 1.28. This means that a group of four flu-infected people could spread the virus to five others.
Coronavirus spreads faster than that. The R value for the Delta variant, which is now sweeping the globe, is approximately seven. This means that a single case of Coronavirus would infect an average of seven people without vaccines or other interventions. The virus will spread faster as vaccination programs continue to push forward, and R will drop. But, it is not clear how low R will fall.
Coronavirus is more deadly than influenza. This is due to the fact that older people are more vulnerable to the disease. In England, seasonal influenza claimed the lives of 44,505 people between 2015-16 and 2018-19. This number was due to Covid in England during the first nine weeks in 2021. The flu figure includes influenza vaccines that are at least 50% effective. This is a major difference.
Coronavirus vaccines should have a higher proportional impact on Covid death. The risk of being hospitalized from Covid has been reduced by over 90% with the most commonly used Covid vaccines in the UK, which are the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech shots. The vaccination program has significantly reduced the number of Covid-related deaths to less than 20 per day over the past week.
The vaccines are more effective at preventing death than transmitting the virus. Therefore, Covid cases will continue to increase. As the epidemic spreads, so does the chance that the virus will infect vulnerable people who haven’t had their shots or aren’t adequately protected by vaccines. Although vaccines can reduce the number of deaths and cases, they are unlikely that they will break the link.
However, the differences between influenza, coronavirus and vaccines to combat them can quickly eclipse a larger issue. It is possible to learn to live with coronavirus just as well as flu, but society cannot take it all in stride.
A global surveillance network monitors the influenza strains that are most likely to be a threat for the next season. This information is used to determine which strains are included in the flu vaccines, which are then distributed during established campaigns. Public health authorities provide case counts throughout flu season and, if necessary, update their advice regarding medical care.