Take both the flu and COVID-19 seriously

A student looks back on a column she wrote eight months ago saying influenza is more dangerous than COVID-19 and now argues the opposite opinion.

In February, I argued in an article for The Temple News that while COVID-19 should be treated seriously, influenza was more dangerous than the coronavirus, and the seasonal flu deserved more of our focus and attention.

I could not have been more wrong.

At the beginning of the year, I paid little attention to COVID-19. Like many others, I chose to ignore the implications of the virus spreading from Asia to Europe and the likely probability that it would reach the United States next. It was easier to convince myself that it would blow over within a few months.

Meanwhile, public health experts at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security had predicted a coronavirus pandemic in 2017, years before COVID-19 even existed, CNN reported. 

Additionally, health experts had been warning the U.S. about the dangers of the pandemic as early as January, KHN reported. 

I treated the growing concern that COVID-19 would impact the U.S. as fear-mongering. I had high hopes for 2020, which included traveling for spring break and visiting my best friend in London in April, and I did not want a global catastrophe to ruin them. 

While my argument that COVID-19 was not affecting the U.S. more than the flu may have been true at the time, it soon after became outdated and inaccurate. By May 1, the amount of deaths stemming from COVID-19 had surpassed the amount of deaths caused by the flu from Oct. to April, CNN reported. 

By the end of the summer, COVID-19 deaths had exceeded deaths from flu outbreaks or any other infectious disease outbreak in a single year or season since the 1918–19 influenza pandemic, a morbid milestone, Elemental reported. 

Knowing how wrong I was, I wish I could retract my previous stance, but all I can do is amend it.

Katie Page, a junior economics major, said in my previous article she had gotten the flu in January, despite getting the flu vaccine. She contracted COVID-19 right after it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, she said.

“It was so new,” Page said. “Nobody knew what was going on. My doctor’s office was being spammed with calls. I only found out I had it because I got an antibody test in May.” 

While public health experts were expecting the U.S. would inevitably go on lockdown, the rest of the U.S. was blindly optimistic that it would pass quickly. Little did we know we would still be feeling its impact seven months later with no end close in sight.  

Make no mistake, though: I am not advocating that we should not pay attention to the flu anymore. With flu season starting this month, it is critical that everyone who is able gets their flu vaccine this year as the regular flu season will only be made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the flu vaccine is only 40 to 60 percent effective, it still prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor visits each year, according to the CDC. 

Kathryn Rein, a senior theater major, said in my previous article that she had the flu in her freshman year after she did not get the annual flu vaccine. After that, she began getting the vaccine every year and plans on getting it again this year, she said. 

“Trying to differentiate [COVID-19 and the flu] could be gambling with your life,” Rein added.  

We have much more information on COVID-19 now than we did in February, but we still do not understand why symptoms can vary so broadly or how long immunity lasts, nor do we have a vaccine approved and available to the general public. 

The severity of the flu should not be overlooked. 

Like COVID-19, symptoms of the flu can be mild to severe, and both can result in pneumonia. In this way, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the two, said Abby Rudolph, an epidemiology professor.

“The overlap in symptoms can make it confusing for people to know what they have, so a large increase in testing will hopefully help not strain the system too much,” Rudolph added. “As we’ve progressed through this, our knowledge on how to treat patients has improved, which is why fatality has gone down, but if you have too many people in the ICUs, then you can’t provide adequate care.”

Until the day comes that we can eradicate COVID-19, we will have to live with it by taking precautionary measures like wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands to reduce the incidence of disease, just like we do with the flu.

Had I known back then what I do now, I would have had an entirely different perspective on COVID-19. But as the world has changed dramatically this year, so has my opinion, and I can confidently say that people should not fear the flu more than COVID-19. 

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