Coronavirus: why in the future we should treat covid-19 like norovirus and not like the flu

Since COVID-19 symptoms – fever, cough, aches – are similar to flu symptoms, it’s tempting to compare the two.

In fact, the new UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, recently said: “We will have to learn to accept the existence of COVID-19 and find ways to deal with it, just as we already do with the flu.”

But have we chosen the wrong disease to compare to COVID-19?

Outside of a pandemic, we accept that seasonal flu is an infection that anyone can get.

We only vaccinate those who are particularly prone to complications and treat people with serious side effects, such as pneumonia. Otherwise, people are left to mind their own business.

Global deaths from flu-related illnesses typically number around 400,000 a year.


While we need to find some way to live with COVID-19, the numbers suggest that we are still a long way from being able to treat it the same way.

There have been more than 180 million cases worldwide since the beginning of 2020, and at least 4 million people have died because of the disease.

Sick man

Measures to control COVID drastically reduced flu cases. (Photo: Getty Images)

In addition to this, we are still not sure of the actual effect of the COVID-19 prolongto, But long-lasting symptoms are common, and one in 10 people still have the disease 12 weeks after infection.

Currently, the health effect of COVID-19 in the population is much greater than that of the flu.

We also know that COVID-19 is more contagious. We can be sure of this because during the last 18 months the measures to control the disease have reduced flu cases to almost none, but they have obviously not been as effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Cases were close to zero in the southern hemisphere during its winter in mid-2020 and again in Europe and North America between November 2020 and March 2021. Even in countries with high rates of COVID-19, such as South Africa and the United Kingdom , in winter there were hardly any cases of flu.

All of this suggests that using methods typically used to fight the flu will have quite a different effect on COVID-19. Treating it like the flu will result in many more cases and deaths, and much more persistent illness than is seen in a typical flu season.

Other comparison

Of course, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, shares some characteristics with influenza viruses, which makes it tempting to compare them.

Woman expelling virus through coughing.Woman expelling virus through coughing.COVID-19 is a much more contagious disease than the flu. (Photo: Getty Images)

About 20% of people do not have any symptoms when infected with SARS-CoV-2, and many people infected with the flu virus also do not get sick.

Both viruses are prone to many mutations. And with both diseases, older people and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness than healthy young adults, and infections spread rapidly in nursing homes, hospital wards, and schools. .

But many of these traits are also shared by another germ: the norovirus. Also may be asymptomatic in some people and mutates quickly: Different strains of norovirus have been found circulating in the same hospital during a season.

In fact, as it spreads, norovirus sometimes changes so much that standard tests cannot recognize the versions that have evolved.

Most people with symptomatic norovirus infections have diarrhea, but some also experience vomiting violent (which are ejected as if it were a projectile).

This creates a virus filled spray that spreads through any room and leaves it on surfaces, waiting for others to pick it up, as with respiratory viruses.

COVID-19 also causes diarrhea in some patients. The flu is not the only viral illness COVID-19 can be compared to.

Compare to plan

Similarly, there are many differences between SARS-CoV-2 and norovirus, so why try to make a comparison?

Vomiting womanVomiting womanNorovirus causes violent vomiting. (Photo: Getty Images)

Well, as vaccines and other measures control the virus, more and more parts of the world will join others where lockdowns have been lifted, social distancing rules have been relaxed, and it is safe to leave the house without wearing one. face mask.

But we must still expect COVID-19 outbreaks in the coming years and we must have plans to deal with them as they arise.

Knowing what we know about these viruses, these plans should consider controlling SARS-CoV-2 more as we would control norovirus than flu.

With norovirus, we keep infected people away from others. We ask parents whose children have symptoms that do not take them to the school. And in hospitals and nursing homes, norovirus patients are cared for separately from others, staff use EPP to protect themselves and surfaces are cleaned in deep.

The management of covid-19 in the future should be interventionist in this sense. It should be more like living with norovirus than the flu.

Maintain habits

In the meantime, we have developed some good hygiene habits during the pandemic, such as wash our hands a little more often and ventilate better buildings.

Woman washing her handsWoman washing her handsThe pandemic has helped us develop good habits, like washing our hands more often. (Photo: Getty Images)

Those who can use a mtoscarilla they should consider continuing to wear it indoors and on public transportation.

These simple measures should help stop the spread of many viral diseases, be it influenza, norovirus or COVID-19, before more important interventions are needed.

* This article was originally published on The Conversation. Click here to read the original version.

* Sarah Pitt is Professor of Microbiology and Biomedical Science Practice at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Brigthon University, UK.

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