Kent Professors' Covid-19 plea: stop comparing it to the flu

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Two Kent Professors working on research into the Coronavirus pandemic have asked people to stop comparing it to the flu.

Professor Martin Michaelis and Dr Mark Wass have released multiple reports and analyses of their tests over the course of the pandemic and according to them, comparing Covid-19 to the flu is a waste of time and even runs the risk of spreading misinformation.

According to Michaelis and Wass, the SARS-CoV-2 virus differs from the influenza virus “in its structure and composition, in the way it replicates, in the range of cells that it can infect, and in the disease that it causes”.

The two academics primarily work on virus-host cell interactions and antiviral drug targets.

A major distinction that Michaelis and Wass are making is between the flu and COVID-19 mortality rates.

Without any lockdown measures, Dr Michaelis said: “seasonal influenza epidemics are estimated to cause between 100,000 to 650,000 deaths each year. In contrast, COVID-19 has already caused more than one million confirmed deaths, although the pandemic is globally still not over its first peak”.

“A recent study performed in Manaus, Brazil, suggested that 66% of the population had been infected by SARS-CoV-2 during the first peak.

"If 66% of the world population became infected, and considering that between 0.2% and 0.9% of SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals are estimated to die, this equates to 10-46 million deaths globally."

He added: "The number of deaths expected from an unhindered spread of COVID-19 exceeds those of most influenza pandemics.

"Countries like the UK, with a high proportion of individuals over 60, would be disproportionately affected by a COVID-19 spread unhindered by containment measures”.

The next distinguishing factor brought to light by Michaelis and Wass is the body’s immune response to the virus.

“Infection with an influenza virus strain typically results in life-long protection against that strain and cross-protection against a range of related strains”.

The reason why people can get re-infected with the flu each season is that the virus evolves “to escape pre-existing immunity”.

However, they argue that evidence has shown patients can get re-infected with the same strain of SARS-CoV-2 and are unable to develop life-long protection.

“Very early results from antibody therapies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 can mutate and escape antibody recognition. Thus, it is unlikely that an unhindered SARS-CoV-2 spread would result in the desired herd immunity to end the pandemic”.

In terms of long-term damage, Dr Michaelis said: “SARS-CoV-2 seems to be able to infect more tissue and cell types than influenza viruses and to cause more harm to a wider variety of organs.

"A substantial fraction of COVID-19 survivors experience long-term problems and organ damage, which is expected to result in a level of secondary mortality that is not seen in influenza survivors”.

Both scientists reiterate that “COVID-19 is not a lesser flu, but a novel and dangerous disease. Equating COVID-19 with flu only provides a false sense of safety at a time when we must be vigilant”.