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Is it now possible to view Covid as a common cold and is the UK still monitoring case numbers?


As we approach the winter season, there has been a rise in Covid cases. However, how concerned should we be about Covid at this point? Can we view it as a minor illness or have we become nonchalant about a sickness that still poses a risk to older and medically at-risk individuals?

What is the difference between Covid and a common cold or seasonal flu?

The comparison between Covid and seasonal flu has been widely used since the beginning of the pandemic. Recently, Covid has shown to have a lower mortality rate compared to flu. Last winter, Covid caused 10,000 deaths while flu caused just over 14,000, according to the UK Health Security Agency. However, Covid is still a more severe illness than the common cold. A study revealed that for hospitalized patients, Covid still poses a higher risk of death. According to Prof Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of East Anglia, one issue is that many people claim to have the flu when they actually do not. It is important to note that flu is not a trivial infection and typically claims the lives of 20,000 individuals during a winter season.

This winter, Covid is expected to continue adding pressure to the health service. According to Prof Christina Pagel from University College London, it’s a positive that we are no longer in 2020 or 2021. However, we also cannot ignore the fact that we are still dealing with a new disease that is causing numerous deaths and the lingering effects of long Covid.

Are we still monitoring the number of individuals affected by Covid?

After the conclusion of the Office for National Statistics infection survey in March, it has been challenging to determine the exact number of infected individuals in the UK. Yet, official UKHSA statistics, which track hospital infections, can indicate whether infection rates are on the rise or decline. The latest figures for this week suggest that infections, which had been on a steady rise since August, are currently decreasing across all age groups.

Is Covid now a seasonal sickness?

Last year, there were several significant spikes in COVID-19 cases as new variants emerged. These waves occurred rapidly and even persisted through the summer months. However, in 2023, this pattern has not been observed, leading some experts to believe that COVID-19 may be settling into a seasonal trend. This is due to factors such as increased indoor interactions and colder temperatures in winter, which make it easier for the virus to spread. According to Hunter, pandemics with shorter periods of immunity tend to experience a gradual decline in waves, eventually reaching an equilibrium state. As the seasons change, we may begin to see a similar pattern with COVID-19, as other human coronaviruses typically peak between November and February.

Is the risk of new variants still a concern?

The BA.2.86 variant, known as the Pirola variant, caused concern when it was first discovered in Denmark in July. It has since spread to other countries and has many mutations, leading to the fear that it could potentially bypass existing immunity or become more dangerous or contagious. However, this does not seem to be the case with this specific strain. According to Hunter, the hype surrounding the variant has not lived up to expectations and it continues to slowly increase in proportion to overall infections.

The possibility of a new variant leading to a sudden increase is becoming less likely, but scientists are still vigilant and keeping an eye out for the emergence of new strains. However, England has discontinued its wastewater surveillance program. “It’s a complicated time,” stated Professor Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London. “In my field, where we are still examining virus sequences, we are still on high alert. But no one has the determination to continue that battle anymore.”

Should you stay home, isolate, and get tested if you have symptoms?

It is recommended to continue staying at home and avoiding social interactions if you are experiencing symptoms of Covid. However, opinions differ on the necessity of testing. Last week, Shropshire community NHS trust issued an email cautioning employees against getting tested for Covid as it may result in them having to stay home for a longer period of time. Pagel expressed disbelief at this approach, stating that hospitals should be the last place where Covid is spread. The NHS is currently facing a shortage of staff, and this method of handling the situation is not beneficial. When Covid is transmitted to older individuals and those with underlying health conditions, they may require longer hospital stays, exacerbating the issue of bed shortages and causing more employees to be absent from work.

According to Pagel, testing remains important as returning to physical activity too soon after having Covid can delay recovery. Therefore, if you are aware of having had Covid, it is advisable to take precautions. Additionally, being aware of a past infection can aid in diagnosing long-term Covid symptoms.

Who is eligible to receive a booster shot at this time?

During this fall season, individuals aged 65 and above and those who are considered clinically vulnerable are able to receive booster shots. As of September 1st, approximately 35% of individuals over the age of 65 have taken advantage of this opportunity. Currently, it is not possible for individuals who do not fall into these eligible groups to privately pay for a Covid booster shot at a pharmacy. However, this may change in the upcoming year. There has been minimal demand for private vaccinations in recent times as the NHS had previously made all individuals over the age of 50 eligible for vaccinations. However, various companies, such as Moderna, have recently applied to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to update their licenses, allowing them to provide vaccines in individual pre-filled syringes. This change would make it easier for pharmacies to offer one-time doses.

Is long-term Covid still an issue?

As more people in the population gain immunity, the likelihood of Covid developing into long Covid has significantly decreased. However, keeping track of the total number of long Covid cases has become more challenging. In March, the ONS conducted its last survey and estimated that 1.9 million individuals in the UK (2.9% of the population) believed they had long Covid (with symptoms lasting longer than four weeks). Of these, 381,000 (20%) reported significant limitations in their ability to carry out daily activities. Last month, the ONS reported a record high of 2.5 million people in the UK not working due to long-term ill health, suggesting that long Covid may be having an impact.

According to Altmann, individuals continue to visit our clinic on a weekly basis. This issue remains a significant concern.

Source: theguardian.com