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  1. A new report fresh from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights the stark difference between covid-19 and the seasonal flu. For hospitalized patients, the report found, the risk of serious complications like pneumonia and shock was significantly higher from covid-19 than from the flu. People hospitalized with covid-19 were over five times more likely to die than hospitalized flu patients. The analysis, published Tuesday as an early release in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, looked at medical records from hospitalized patients who had gotten their medical care covered through the Veterans Health Administration, the single largest integrated healthcare system in the U.S. They looked at the outcomes of around 5,500 people diagnosed with influenza between October 2018 and February 2020 and compared them to nearly 4,000 people diagnosed with covid-19 between March and May 2020. Compared to flu patients, those with covid-19 were at increased risk for 17 respiratory and nonrespiratory complications, the researchers found. In particular, covid-19 patients were 19 times more likely to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition that fills the lungs with fluid. Heart inflammation, pneumonia, liver failure, shock, bloodstream infections, and bleeding inside the brain were among the other complications more likely for covid-19. Even the typical hospital stay was lengthier for covid-19 patients, taking nearly three times as long on average (8.6 days vs 3 days). Of the covid-19 patients in the study, 21% died, compared to 3.8% of flu patients—a more than fivefold gap between the two. The mortality rate from covid-19 was similar across racial and ethnic groups, but certain complications were more common among Black and Hispanic patients, such as kidney problems and sepsis. These disparities provide “further evidence that racial and ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by covid-19,” the authors wrote. The findings are not shocking, given the deaths caused by the pandemic in the U.S. so far, now at over 220,000 officially reported. That still-growing and likely undercounted number dwarfs the average 30,000 to 60,000 deaths estimated from a typical flu season, and it has eclipsed the U.S. death toll of the previous three pandemics seen in the past 100 years, all of which were caused by a flu virus. (You have to look back to the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, to find one deadlier). But in the face of persistent misinformation, even from the White House, that covid-19 is little more than a bad flu, this study is a sobering reminder of just how untrue that is. There have been some positive developments since May, when the analysis in this study ended. Hospitals and doctors have become better at managing patients’ care and avoiding intensive interventions like invasive ventilation, for instance, while steroids have become a standard lifesaving treatment for the most severe covid-19 cases. These improvements are modest, but are likely reducing the odds of any one person in the hospital developing serious complications or dying from covid-19 now compared to early on. As encouraging as that is, the U.S. is currently in the midst of its third peak of the pandemic, with daily new cases and hospitalizations once again on the rise. As long as the virus spreads unimpeded, lots of people will get sick enough to need a hospital. And unfortunately, far too many will continue to suffer serious illness and die. Source
  2. On Friday morning, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a second person in the US had been diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus. The woman travelled to Wuhan, China, at the end of December and returned to Chicago on January 13. The announcement of her diagnosis came three days after a man in Washington state contracted the virus. Public-health officials in the US are monitoring at least 63 additional patients from 22 states. Although the CDC considers this coronavirus (whose scientific name is 2019-nCoV) to be a serious public-health concern, the agency said in a statement Friday that "the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time." A graver health risk for Americans – not just right now, but every year – is the flu. Since October, up to 20,000 people in the US have died of influenza. The coronavirus, meanwhile, has infected about 914 people worldwide and killed 26. "When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there's just no comparison," William Schaffner, a vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, told Kaiser Health News (KHN). "Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial." Tens of thousands of Americans die of flu every year At least 15 million Americans have caught the flu in the last four months; nearly a quarter million of them went to the hospital. Since flu season peaks between December and February, the worst could be still to come. "Influenza rarely gets this sort of attention, even though it kills more Americans each year than any other virus," Peter Hotez, a virologist at Baylor College of Medicine, told KHN. In 2018, which brought the worst flu season in about 40 years, 80,000 people in the US died of the illness. The flu is not just a US problem, of course. According to the World Health Organisation, seasonal influenza viruses infects between 3 million and 5 million people worldwide annually, and kills up to 650,000 per year. Comparing the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus Both the flu and the coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person via coughing and other close contact. So far, experts report that the median age of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus is around 75. Many of these individuals had other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. According to Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at Healix International, children, elderly people, pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised are more susceptible to the Wuhan coronavirus' severest complications. "The people who are likely to die at first will be people who have other illnesses," he told Business Insider. "But as it spreads, it will pick up more people like flu does – people in their 30s, 40s, who are otherwise good and well but unfortunately get ill," Hyzler's added. His firm offers risk-management solutions for global travellers. The CDC, meanwhile, is far more concerned about protecting people in the US from the flu. Between 5 percent and 20 percent of nearly 400 million Americans get the flu every year. "It is currently flu and respiratory disease season, and CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed," the agency said in a statement Friday. The coronavirus doesn't have a vaccine A key difference between the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus, however, is that the former has a vaccine. "Simply having the choice about whether or not to receive a flu shot can give people an illusion of control," Schaffner told KHN. (The seasonal flu vaccine is never perfect, however. It was about 29 percent effective last year among Americans.) Fewer than half of US adults got a flu shot during the 2018-19 season, according to the CDC. Only 62 percent of children received the vaccine. Because the Wuhan virus is new, experts have not had time to develop a vaccine. "If Wuhan were to explode, a vaccine best-case scenario is three-quarters of a year, if not longer," Vincent Munster, a virologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, told Business Insider. Several companies, including Moderna, Novavax, and Inovio, have announced preliminary vaccine development plans. But vaccine development has historically been an arduous, multi-year process (the Ebola vaccine took 20 years to make). None of the companies provided expected timelines to get their vaccines to market. The coronavirus outbreak isn't considered a pandemic China has quarantined Wuhan and 11 other cities to stop the virus' spread, though cases have been reported in nine other countries, including the US, France, and Japan. The outbreak isn't considered a pandemic, however. The World Health Organisation has so far not declared it a global public-health emergency either. "Familiarity breeds indifference," Schaffner said. "Because it's new, it's mysterious, and comes from an exotic place, the coronavirus creates anxiety." Aria Bendix contributed reporting for this story. source
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