COVID-19 : Not as deadly as the flu?

COVID-19 : Not as deadly as the flu?

We truly value the response of our readers which leads to further discussions and explorations. We had a response to the recent article https://dialogos.co.za/for-once-and-for-all-the-truth-about-the-covid-19-vaccines/ , stating the following:  “This was never a pandemic, much more people die yearly from other sicknesses, not to mention flue.”

This statement seems to represent a sentiment held by many people and we, at dia-Logos,  would like to provide a factual response:

VIRUS vs ILLNESS

In an article on Consortium news[1], Alexander Mercouris examines claims that Covid-19 is over-hyped and is really just like the flu.  Mercouris starts the article by making a very important point that is underexplored in most arguments relating to COVID-19.  He writes the following:

“Firstly, it is important to distinguish between the virus itself – the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 – and the illness – Covid-19 – which the virus causes. Unfortunately, this important distinction is rarely made or explained, so that many people do not understand it, and are not aware of it.

It is possible for an individual to be infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus without becoming ill (by which I mean feeling unwell and showing symptoms of illness) with the illness known as Covid-19. The fact that individuals who become infected with the SARS-CoV-19 but who do not become ill with Covid-19 are typically referred to as “asymptomatic cases” – as if they are somehow ill but in some invisible way – makes the confusion about this fact greater. This in turn leads to a misunderstanding of how dangerous an illness Covid-19 is.”

Marcouris concludes that the confusion between the illness and the virus leads to misleading assumptions, including the fact that COVID-19 can be compared to the common flu.  He writes as follows:

“There is a significant and vocal community on social media who insist that Covid-19 is not really dangerous at all save to those who are old or seriously ill, and who are likely to die shortly anyway. Typically such people claim Covid-19 is no more dangerous than seasonal flu, and claim that the restrictions on movement which have been imposed to contain its spread are counterproductive and unnecessary. Often they persist in referring to Covid-19 as “flu”, presumably in order to emphasise their rejection of the claims about its dangers. They also typically complain that the restrictions on movement, if made mandatory, are violations of human rights.

Those who make these claims tend in my experience to add together the number of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus with the number of people ill with Covid-19, treating them as if they were all ill with Covid-19. Needless to say, this results in a serious underestimate of the percentage of those ill with Covid-19 who die from the disease.

They then typically compound this error by accepting the exaggerated claims about the numbers of so-called “asymptomatic cases” – that is to say of people who are infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus but who are not ill with Covid-19 – which regularly get made. This of course results in their underestimating the percentage of cases of Covid-19 which end in death even further. These errors are then further compounded by a further tendency to explain away Covid-19 deaths as the deaths of old or unhealthy people, who supposedly were on the brink of dying anyway, and whose deaths were not therefore supposedly caused by Covid-19.

At the end of this flawed process the percentage of deaths from Covid-19 which it produced is insignificantly small, resulting in an extreme underestimate of the lethality of the illness.

In reality the true measure of the lethality of a disease is how many people die who are ill with it, not how many people die out of the total number of people who may notionally have become infected by the micro-organism which causes it.

As for the claim that most of those who die from Covid-19 are old or unhealthy, that is undoubtedly true. However I am unable to see the relevance of this point. In any epidemic with very few exceptions (Spanish flu being one) it is precisely those with weakened immune systems because they are old or unhealthy who are most likely to die. The fact that they are old or unhealthy does not mean that Covid-19 did not cause their death.”

([1] https://consortiumnews.com/2020/05/10/covid-19-2020-year-of-the-virus/)

EPIDEMIC vs PANDEMIC

Secondly, once we’ve established the difference between the virus and the illness, it is equally important to define pandemic before we evaluate whether COVID-19 qualifies or not.  According to Rochester Regional Health, a pandemic is a type of epidemic that relates to geographic spread and describes a disease that affects an entire country or the whole world.  An epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads over significant geographical areas and affects a large percent of the population.  In short, a pandemic is an epidemic on a national or global level.  Examples of past pandemics are the flu pandemic of 1968, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the bubonic plague.

The definition of a pandemic:  It is a virus that affects an extensive geographical area, often worldwide. It infects a larger number of people.  It is caused by a new virus or a new strain of virus that has not circulated within people before or not for a long time.  Humans have little to no immunity against the virus and it spreads quickly.  It causes more deaths.  It often creates social disruption and economic loss

So, according to the definition of a pandemic, COVID-19 as an ‘illness’ is a pandemic in the truest sense of the word, regardless of how the general public sees it.

DEADLY vs LETHAL

There is also a difference between being a deadly virus or a lethal virus.  It is correct to say that there are other diseases more deadly, that kill more people in the world today, but this is a very simplistic approach to an extremely complex situation – for a number of reasons.   Evaluating how lethal the virus is, involves more than just considering the number of deaths.  We need to consider how quickly it spreads, how contagious it is, how easily it spreads, the speed and frequency of spreading, the different strains of the virus, the infection rate, are vaccines available, how it affect immune systems, medical preparedness, age distribution, vulnerability, etc etc. 

So, firstly, even though the assumption is correct that “much more people die yearly from other sicknesses”, it is not true of deaths relating to the flu.  Our World in Data gives the following cause of annual deaths:

  1. Cardiovascular diseases -17.79 million
  2. Cancers – 9.56 million
  3. Respiratory diseases – 3.91 million
  4. Lower respiratory infections – 2.56 million
  5. Dementia – 2.51 million
  6. Digestive diseases – 2.38 million
  7. Neonatal disorders – 1.78 million
  8. Diarrheal diseases – 1.57 million
  9. COVID-19 (up to 26 November 2020) – 1,43 million
  10. Diabetes – 1.37 million
  11. Liver diseases – 1.32 million
  12. Road injuries – 1.24 million
  13. Tuberculosis – 1.18 million
  14. HIV/AIDS – 954 thousand
  15. Suicide – 793 thousand
  16. Malaria – 619 thousand
  17. Homicide – 405 thousand
  18. Drowning – 295 thousand
  19. Meningitis – 288 thousand
  20. Maternal disorders – 193 thousand
  21. Alcohol use disorders – 184 thousand
  22. Drug use disorders – 166 thousand
  23. Conflict – 129 thousand
  24. Hepatitis – 126 thousand
  25. Terrorism – 26 thousand
  26. Natural disasters – 10 thousand

So, even though COVID-19 is not the most deadly illness, it is the most lethal for the simple reason that the diseases with a bigger fatality rate than COVID-19 are not contagious and therefore not as deadly.  In this regard, COVID-19 may not be the biggest killer in the world but it certainly is more lethal.

It is equally true that COVID-19 is not the most deadly virus in the world.  If we consider diseases like the Brain-eating Amoeba with a Mortality rate of  95%,  Balamuthia Encephalitis with a mortality rate of 98%, Rabies with a mortality rate of 100%, and Mad Cow Disease also with a mortality rate of 100%, then COVID-19, with a mortality rate of 3%, seems fairly insignificant.  But even though the COVID-19 virus is not as deadly, it has killed more people than the top ten deadly viruses combined

THE COMMON FLU vs COVID-19

The way that the virus spreads is also an important factor to consider, especially compared to the common flu.  If we look at the USA as an example, there were at least 32 million cases of flu reported in the United States during the previous season.  Of these reported cases, 310,000 people were hospitalized and 18,000 flu deaths occurred (which could have been as high as 46,000 deaths), according to the C.D.C.  

In comparison, since the first COVID-19 death was reported in the USA on 26 February, 13,1 million have now been infected with 268,221 who have died.  This is nearly six times more than the maximum estimated deaths of flu in the USA.  It is completely false that more people die of flu than of the virus.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year.   At the time of publishing this article, COVID-19 has resulted in 1,5 million deaths – nearly three times more than the common flu.

But the most important point to consider is how contagious the COVID-19 virus is.   The highly contagious nature of COVID-19 has been one of the reasons the virus developed into a full-blown pandemic. Coronavirus has the ability to spread through the air, on surfaces, and through contact with others—and worse yet, in many cases, people can spread the virus for days or weeks without even showing symptoms. But a recent study has shed light on exactly when those with COVID-19 are most contagious—and the results are alarming. It turns out, the highest risk period of transmission is two to three days before you show symptoms.

According to statistics in the USA, a person with the common flu will on average pass it to 1.4 people.  In other words, if there are 10 cycles of that interaction, there will be 14 cases of the flu.  But the coronavirus is three times as infectious as the flu. So if one person with the coronavirus passes it onto three people, and those three people pass onto three more people for ten cycles, there will be 59,000 infections.

So, even though it is true that COVID-19 is not the biggest killer disease, it is not the full truth. It is a pandemic in the true definition of the word and it is by far the most dangerous virus around. 

FROM  A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

There are two dangers in facing tragedies of this nature

FIRSTLY, WE RATIONALISE. 

As Christians we need to be cautious not to rationalise the pain of others.  In Hebrews 13:3 we are called to remember those in prison AS IF we were in prison with them.  It is irrelevant what disease is the deadliest.  We should weep with those that weep and show solidarity with those who suffer.  The pain and suffering that many are currently experiencing across the globe should stir believers into action, not rationalising.  May God forbid that we ever measure involvement according to size. 

SECONDLY, WE CONSPIRE

So many Christians, and even some prominent teachers, seek to link some kind of conspiracy to the Corona Virus. It seems like if we can link a tragedy to a conspiracy, we exempt ourselves from expressing any empathy. It is far easier to pass on messages of suspicion than messages of solidarity. The one response demanding only contempt and the other one action.  Heaven weeps and some negotiate whether people deserve compassion or not.   We need to stop posting theories and rather post prayers. We have to change our thinking. The Kingdom of God embraces souls, not theories.

 

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