Covid-19 is just another flu, right? Not so, say medical fundis
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Johannesburg - FLU HAS never placed a whole country and the world on lockdown. This must be a whole different kettle of fish.
If Covid-19 is flu-like, how far off the mark would the assumption be that it could be treated with the
same degree of success as other respiratory ailments?
The Department of Health says
the spread of the coronavirus is thought to happen mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how flu and other respiratory pathogens spread.
Symptoms reported for patients with Covid-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or fever, the department says.
Housewives’ tales abound about how to deal with Covid-19 with the same ease as the yearly flu, or at least fortify oneself against it.
Dr Tebello Lincoln Sixishe, a Kagiso physician, says: “First, Covid-19 is a flu-like virus and as part of the preventative measures already advocated, that
is, regular washing of hand, sanitising of surfaces, vitamin C intake, fluid intake, social distancing and so
on, also apply to these kind of respiratory viruses.
“The whole scenario there changes when we deal with Covid-19. Clinical manifestations and, therefore, its specific treatment are different. We need to distinguish between what is prevention and what is treatment.
“When we prevent, in this case for respiratory infections, we focus on those elements that will exacerbate the transmission (spread) of the virus; whereas when we treat, we are now dealing with manifestations of an active disease to try to remove/alleviate those clinical manifestations.
“A cure, on the other hand, in a form of a vaccine, will entail a total eradication of the disease.
“When we say Covid-19 shares the same characteristics with influenza, we mean in the way their prevention is similar and not in their treatment.
“This is an important feature in the disease process because it is at the inception where we then emphasise prevention. That is also a big step if your preventative measures are successful. You then end up with a much lower transmission rate.”
Trained in Havana, Cuba, Sixishe says: “This will explain the rapid spread of this virus in the West where the main focus in health has always been in the secondary and tertiary spheres of health, whereas if you look at the most under-developed countries, like Cuba, who have a strong focus on primary health care, this (the spread) has not been the case.
“This is also a case with South Africa because of its radical approach of an early lockdown and stringent adherence to preventive measures; that is why we are seeing a slower rate of infection here at home.”
Dr Norman Mabasa, a leading general practitioner and former Limpopo health MEC, says: “The coronavirus is said to be just another type of flu. In fact, those that have seen the worst of it refer to it as ‘viral pneumonia’.
“Ordinary influenza does not wage a war with the lungs the way the coronavirus does. The ‘normal flu’ resolves on its own without causing fatalities. Those infected don’t have to be quarantined as opposed to those infected by coronavirus. The latter demonstrates how infectious it is as opposed to its counterparts.”
Covid-19 is a different beast altogether, says Mabasa: “At worst, the lungs battle to eliminate the coronavirus at their own expense until their lining is damaged. It is this damage that causes the lungs to fail to absorb oxygen which we need for our bodies (which is why it is named ‘viral pneumonia’).
“This is when people are taken to ICU to try to ventilate as the lungs fail to do so by themselves.
“The damaged lung, which cannot absorb the oxygen, results in other organs getting damaged and ultimately people’s demise. This thus makes this virus different from its ‘cousins’.”
Another Kagiso medico, Dr Solly Motlanthe, says: “There is no specific treatment for influenza but seasonal vaccine helps in targeting certain predicted strains that might lead to serious disease. There are many different strains of influenza and coronaviruses.
“Most influenza and Sars-CoV-2 illnesses are mild but few can be deadly, depending on the particular strain involved. For example, influenza A virus is associated with high levels of admission to ICU.
“Both infect humans by entering the layer covering the nose, throat, large air pipes, and small air pipes and, finally, the balloon-like structures called the alveoli that are surrounded by small blood vessels.
“When you breath in, the oxygenated air passes through these structures, reach the alveoli, pass through the alveolar layer, into the blood vessels and en route to supply all organs with oxygen for survival.”
Motlanthe says there are four sub-families of coronaviruses.
“Children younger than five years old have an immature immune
system. People with heart diseases, smokers or those with chronic lung diseases, those with low immunity or defence like HIV and not on treatment, those on chemotherapy for cancer, those with organ transplants, those over 65 years old, diabetics, obesity, pregnant women and so on are at a high risk of developing serious
disease that might sometimes warrant hospital admission.”