Flu Vs the Wuhan Coronavirus: Know Your Illness

Every year, prior to the onset of summer, the flu season sets in, resulting in influenza and related conditions. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

While China is suffering through a coronavirus outbreak, American citizens are braving both influenza and the Wuhan coronavirus. Even though some believe that both flu and coronavirus are similar, the fact is that there are big differences in the way they are transmitted, their mortality rates, preventive measures, and so on.

Flu vs the Wuhan coronavirus

Scientists determine the spreading capability of a virus through the “basic reproduction number,” denoted as R0. In simple terms, R0 refers to the average number of people who can get infected by the virus from a single human being. Flu is said to have an R0 value of around 1.3. However, the R0 value of coronavirus is higher.

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“Preliminary studies have estimated an R0 value for the new coronavirus to be between 2 and 3… This means each infected person has spread the virus to an average of 2 to 3 people… It’s important to note that R0 is not necessarily a constant number. Estimates can vary by location, depending on such factors as how often people come into contact with each other and the efforts taken to reduce viral spread,” according to Live Science.

Both flu and coronavirus can spread from one individual to another through droplets in the air that come from an infected person’s sneezing, coughing, or talking. In the case of flu, once the infected person walks away, other people occupying the same spot are not at risk of being infected. But the droplets emitted from a coronavirus-infected person can infect other people in the spot long after they’re gone.

(Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)
Both flu and coronavirus can spread from one individual to another through droplets in the air that come from an infected person’s sneezing, coughing, or talking. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The flu can be addressed with antiviral medications. A vaccine is also available to prevent some of the most dangerous forms of flu and to reduce the severity of some types. In the case of the current coronavirus, antiviral medications have not yet been proven to be effective against the infection. Even though research on potential vaccines is being conducted worldwide, it has yet to produce positive results.

When it comes to how contagious the infections are, the flu can spread from one person to another before the symptoms even become apparent. “People with the flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins. However, healthy adults may be able to infect others 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. Young children and people with weakened immune systems might be able to infect others for an even longer time,” according to Yale New Haven Health.

Individuals infected with the Wuhan coronavirus start showing symptoms in about 5 days. The average incubation period is about 14 days. It is unclear whether people infected with coronavirus are contagious during the incubation period. Some reports claim that the incubation period can last for up to 24 days.

Coronavirus fact vs fiction

A rumor suggests that the Wuhan coronavirus is just a mutated form of the common cold. This is absolutely false. “SARS-CoV-2 does share similarities with other coronaviruses, four of which can cause the common cold. All five viruses have spiky projections on their surfaces and utilize so-called spike proteins to infect host cells.

However, the four cold coronaviruses — named 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 — all utilize humans as their primary hosts. SARS-CoV-2 shares about 90 percent of its genetic material with coronaviruses that infect bats, which suggests that the virus originated in bats and later hopped to humans,” according to Live Science.

(Image: NIH Image Gallery / CC0 1.0)
The coronavirus has spiky projections on the surface and uses spike proteins to infect host cells. (Image: NIH Image Gallery / CC0 1.0)

Another claim states that wearing a face mask protects you from the virus. This is not entirely true. Common surgical masks are incapable of blocking viruses. So even if you wear these masks, you can still be infected with the virus if near an infected person. However, N95 masks are known to provide a high level of protection against the virus. But they have to be worn properly, ensuring that no air sneaks in at the edges of the mask.

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