Will COVID Ever Become Just Another Seasonal Flu?
Infectious disease specialists agree that COVID-19 may eventually develop into a seasonal illness with regular patterns of infection, but this stage has not yet been reached.
Although the virus has shown some seasonality since its origin, other elements, such as variant evolution, population immunity, and behavioral changes, have diminished the severity of seasonality. This has been demonstrated by prior seasonal Covid spikes. Peaks have been associated with when variants frequently happen. The function of these mutations, which directly connect the variants present at a certain time and location with the Coronavirus’s reproductive number, abbreviated R, is what ties variants and outbreaks together.
The intensity of an infectious disease outbreak can be measured using R. It represents the number of extra individuals that an infected person will disseminate the virus to. It is possible to foresee spreading occurrences by combining genome sequencing data with transmissibility knowledge to develop a kind of early warning system. This kind of early notification could help public health officials make judgements about social interventions in the real world. Foreseen outbreaks can be prepared for by people.
Covid surges are significantly less predictable, because protection against infection wanes for both those who have been previously infected and those who have received vaccinations.
The population’s increased immunity and return to pre-pandemic lifestyles may cause the disease to settle into a more predictable rhythm, although experts agree that this will probably take a few more years to happen.
Wishing For the Flu’s Predictability
Covid’s potential for “seasonality” in the foreseeable future may be influenced by how predictable the flu virus is. According to the CDC, the US may anticipate relatively low flu-related mortality and morbidity each year, with anywhere between 12,000 and 60,000 fatalities and 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations.
In terms of predictability, James Lawler, MD, MPH, of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha said that “it’s just not possible to put the square peg of SARS-CoV-2 into the round hole of influenza just yet.”
He explained that it’s because they are “vastly different viruses.”
The influenza virus frequently mutates, necessitating yearly vaccination, but it often shifts, growing larger mutations that can result in more virulent, pandemic influenza, which is less common but causes greater death.
The virus appears to be continuously evolving, whether you choose to label these changes a change, shift, drift, or ongoing evolution.
Given what has been seen with the emergence of variations in the Omicron family, experts concurred that the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 really seemed to be speeding.
The virus is changing quickly and will keep doing so. It was the only information accessible from the early stages of the pandemic, even though it was based on a small number of genome sequences. Every week, laboratories all over the world are sequencing hundreds of genomes as the pandemic proceeds. Researchers used 20,000 genomes from the UK to repeat initial estimations and came to the same conclusion: new variations increased transmission, variants are still expanding, and variant prevalence will rise as the pandemic spreads.
That doesn’t always imply that we’ll see more severe disease, or, if we draw the unfair comparison to the flu, a significant shift that results in a sharp increase in hospital admissions and fatalities. Evolution would probably prefer varieties that are more contagious or immune-evasive, but not ones that keep individuals in bed.
Studying Different Covid Variations
These four variations—Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron—have seasonality and could serve as a better guide for COVID-19 in the US in the future. They circulate at relatively low levels throughout the year, but during the winter, when a large portion of the country retreats indoors to avoid the cold, they create infection surges.
Although SARS-CoV-2 has already displayed some seasonality, it is not as pronounced as it is with the other four coronaviruses that circulate annually. That might be because, up until recently, the population had relatively little immunity, which might have made the sharp seasonality less obvious.
Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the CDC, predicted that COVID would “probably” develop into a seasonal virus. However, we don’t have lifetime immunity to any of these coronaviruses, which should have served as a pretty good warning to us that we wouldn’t have SARS-CoV-2 immunity either through natural infection or vaccination. We should be ready for this phenomenon of needing occasional boosts by this point.