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COVID-19

No, coronavirus isn’t the same as the flu

Aches and pains, sore throat, fever -- although they may feel similar to those suffering from their symptoms, the novel coronavirus is not the same as the seasonal flu, experts have stressed. (Paywall Free)

No, coronavirus isn't the same as the flu
Photo: AFP

Mortality

COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, proves deadly in around 3.5 percent of confirmed cases.

While this is not the same as its mortality rate, given many people may be infected but not realise it, it is significantly higher than seasonal flu, which typically kills 0.1 percent of patients.

“There is still considerable uncertainty around the fatality rates of COVID-19 and it likely varies depending on the quality of local healthcare,” said Francois Balloux, Professor of Computational Systems Biology at University College London.

“That said, it is around two percent on average, which is about 20 times higher than for the seasonal flu lineages currently in circulation.”

Serious cases

But the true danger of coronavirus is unlikely to be the death toll. 

Experts say health systems could easily become overwhelmed by the number of cases requiring hospitalisation — and, often ventilation to support breathing.  

An analysis of 45,000 confirmed cases in China, where the epidemic originated, show that the vast majority of deaths were among the elderly (14.8 percent mortality among over 80s).

But another Chinese study showed that 41 percent of serious cases occurred among under 50s, compared with 27 percent among over 65s.

“It's true that if you're older you're at greater risk, but serious cases can also happen in relatively young people with no prior conditions,” said French deputy health minister Jerome Salomon.

Contagiousness 

Disease experts estimate that each COVID-19 sufferer infects between two to 3 others.

That's a reproduction rate up to twice as high as seasonal flu, which typically infects 1.3 new people for each patient.

Vaccine/treatment 

Salomon said that humans have lived with influenza for more than 100 years.

“We've studied it closely,” he said. “This new virus resembles the flu in terms of physical symptoms but there are huge differences.”

Number one is the lack of a vaccine against COVID-19, or even any treatment shown to be consistently effective. 

While some trials have shown promise delivering anti-retroviral drugs to serious cases, as well as some experimental therapies, their sample sizes are too small to roll out to the general population.

Hundreds of researchers around the world are working frantically to find a COVID-19 vaccine, but the development process takes months and is likely too late for the current outbreak.

Even if a vaccine magically appeared, getting everyone access it to it is no small order. Health authorities regularly complain that not enough people receive the flu vaccine to guarantee “herd immunity”. 

Similarities

But the new virus does share some characteristics with flu, notably the measures each one of us can personally take to slow the infection rate:

Avoid shaking hands, frequently wash your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your face and wear a mask if you are sick.

Such actions can limit new infections just as they can with the flu, gastro illnesses and other infectious diseases.

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HEALTH

How serious is Danish recall of antibiotic medicine?

The Danish Medicines Agency, Lægemiddelstyrelsen, recently recalled antibiotic medicine Dicillin.

How serious is Danish recall of antibiotic medicine?

The medicines authority said on Monday that persons using the antibiotic medicine Dicillin, produced by Sandoz, should return it to pharmacies to be replaced.

That came after multi-resistant bacteria known as CPO were detected in nine cases in patients who have taken the antibiotic.

The nine cases were detected over a four-month period.

READ ALSO: Danish medicines authority recalls antibiotic used by 35,000 people

The researcher who detected the issue with the antibiotic said in an interview with news wire Ritzau that he was very surprised when it first became apparent.

“We couldn’t believe it. What we had feared was actually the case,” senior physician and professor Ulrik Stenz Justesen of Odense University Hospital’s clinical microbiology department told Ritzau.

“I’ve been in this game for quite a few years now and I’ve never experienced anything like this before,” he said.

Around 35,000 people in Denmark were prescribed the antibiotic between September and December last year, according to the Danish Patient Data Authority (Sundhedsdatastyrelsen).

The actual number of people who are using the medicine could be larger than this because it may have been sold after that period, Ritzau writes.

Multi-resistant bacteria are resistant to treatment with several types of antibiotic.

CPO or carbapenemase-producing organisms are a group of bacteria that are resistant to several different types of antibiotics. They can be difficult to treat, according to information from the Danish Health Authority.

The risk of becoming seriously ill due to CPO is low for a healthy person, but people who are already ill or vulnerable can be at increased risk.

Infection with multiresistant bacteria can also mean all future hospital treatments for the affected person must be given in isolated rooms, so the bacteria are not passed on to other patients.

That could have serious consequences at Danish hospitals where capacity is already under strain, according to Justesen.

“That would increase the strain on a health system that is already severely strained,” he said.

Medicines of this type are produced under highly controlled conditions, which makes the discovery even more extraordinary, he explained.

“We don’t study medicines daily to see whether there are bacteria in them. But this is a bacteria that behaves so strangely that we immediately notice it,” he said.

Although the detection of the bacteria is concerning, the professor in microbiology said finding it was also reassuring in some way.

“We were also relieved that we could do something about it and get it stopped so we didn’t have to look around for many months for a source and know it was spreading in the community,” he said.

Manufacturer Sandoz has recalled all Dicillin packets and patients have been advised to return it to pharmacies to be replaced. Patients do not need to obtain a new prescription from their doctor.

“It’s important that you don’t stop your treatment if you are taking antibiotics. So patients to take 500mg Dicillin from Sandoz should go to their pharmacy to get a different, equivalent preparation,” the Danish Medicines Agency said in Monday’s statement.

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