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Why public health officials sound more worried about the coronavirus than the seasonal flu
An epidemiologist explains.
At the same time, the seasonal influenza, known as the flu, causes severe illness in between 3 million and 5 million people, with hundreds of thousands of deaths every year worldwide.
With so many fewer cases than the flu, what explains the dramatic response to COVID-19 and worry around the globe? And how would a person know whether seasonal influenza-like symptoms are COVID-19?
As an epidemiologist, here's how I look at these questions.
Difficult to distinguish
The first thing to realize is that the emergence of the novel coronavirus isn't a rare "black swan" event. Rather, this is a product of evolution; there have been about 40 new, infectious diseases discovered globally since the 1970s, with pathogens often jumping from animals to humans.
Detecting who has this new virus becomes a key public health challenge, which is made harder because it's the season for another virus – influenza. And in the U.S., there is a shortage of local laboratories able to test for the coronavirus virus in humans.
Influenza, by contrast, is far more familiar to public health researchers and doctors, and thus more predictable. It can occur anytime during the year in the U.S., but it typically begins in September and can go into May of the following year. While the peak of cases in the U.S. fluctuates, it typically occurs in February when the disease is widespread across the country.
If a new disease emerges during influenza season and has different signs and symptoms than the influenza, then it is easier to detect and track in the human population. However, if the signs and symptoms overlap, as they do with flu and COVID-19, detection is much more difficult for the public health, medical and the lay population.
COVID-19 produces signs and symptoms that are similar to influenza, which makes it difficult to distinguish between the two. COVID-19 can cause fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and, occasionally, vomiting and diarrhea; both can cause pneumonia as well.
Speed of spread
Currently one of the biggest differences between seasonal influenza and COVID-19 is the incubation period – that is, the time from exposure to development of signs and symptoms. For seasonal influenza, the incubation period ranges from one to four days, but in some instances, people may be contagious a day before symptoms appear and as long as five to seven days after symptoms start. COVID-19's incubation period ranges from 2-14 days, which is up to three times longer than influenza.
Also, COVID-19 is more contagious than seasonal influenza. The average person, even with mild symptoms, is likely to spread the disease to more than two people. By contrast, the seasonal flu's rate is roughly half.
Another significant challenge with influenza and COVID-19 is that they both can have mild infections. People with more mild disease are less likely to seek diagnosis and care, but are still considered infectious and able to transmit the disease person to person.
The death rate of the seasonal flu varies year to year but is about 0.1%, compared to about 2% for COVID-19. The disastrous 1918 influenza epidemic, known as the "Spanish flu," had a death rate of about 2.5%.
Finally, one of the biggest concerns for COVID-19 is asymptomatic infections. People who are infected with the virus may be able to transmit the infection, and yet they themselves don't have any signs or symptoms of disease. This represents a challenge because it would be difficult to identify persons that need to be tested for the disease since they have no signs or symptoms, but their ability to transmit the disease would allow for amplification in a naive, or uninfected, population.
No vaccine available for COVID-19
Unlike influenza, COVID-19 does not have a vaccine or medication people can take to protect themselves and it is believed that everyone is susceptible.
There are a number of efforts to develop treatments for COVID-19, but nothing is yet approved. Vaccines are also being pursued, but a vaccine for COVID-19 will not be ready for several months.
Getting the vaccine for the seasonal flu can actually be helpful for medical professionals. Since the signs and symptoms are similar, if everyone were to be vaccinated against the flu, fewer people would have the flu, thus making it easier to detect another disease with similar symptoms. The faster it is identified, the faster public health and the medical community can respond to minimize the spread of disease.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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