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COVID-19 infections and deaths may spike in flu season

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Flu season is ahead and may well bring further infection and a higher death rate (image by Official U.S Navy Page via Flickr).

The coast is not clear in Australia: there might be more COVID-19 pain in the coming months.

THIS IS A CURVE that illustrates the cold and flu season in Australia. It would likely represent the southern hemisphere, too. It starts to jump significantly between April and May.

Source: Health Direct (Australian Government).

Meanwhile this graph, from the U.S., demonstrates that the flu season hits a peak in the colder, winter months. It might well represent the trends in the northern hemisphere.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It drops off pretty significantly from March onwards.

Connecting the dots

Colds and the flu are viral contagions that are spread through aerosols, just like COVID-19. We need to be very careful in interpreting our success in containment. The northern hemisphere appears to be flattening the curve, coincidentally with the end of the cold and flu season.

COVID-19 didn’t start in Europe until halfway through their cold and flu season.

We have flattened the curve in late summer, early autumn. All of our transmissions to date have occurred in conditions unfavourable to viral infection (except relating to the Ruby Princess debacle). We are heading into cold and flu season now.

Grave concerns

To date, we have had a very low infection rate, but even more significantly, we have had very few serious cases and deaths.

Overall, of 6,703 cases there have been 81 fatalities. A fatality rate of one per cent. Lower than anywhere else in the world. If you take out the Ruby Princess it is far lower still.

Approximately 600 Ruby Princess passengers were infected. 15 had died, which is a 2.5 per cent death rate.

These were people who were largely asymptomatic as they left the ship, they were treated by Australian doctors and if anything, these patients were tracked down for testing, so likely an early intervention.

The same virus, the same hospitals, but a death rate 2.2 times as high.

It has become increasingly evident that the size of the initial exposure is a factor in how severely the patient is compromised by the infection.

In cold and flu season, viruses live longer in the air, which means an increase in the number of viral pathogens within the volume of air that you breathe.

More infections, more serious infections, more deaths.

Prepare for the worst and hope for the best

What is the worst that could happen?

Summertime infections in the community are largely asymptomatic, and untested and potentially widespread. As the cold and flu season picks up the infections become more severe and more life-threatening.

It's worth noting that the explosion of the pandemic in the northern hemisphere occurred during the tail-end of the cold and flu season. It started from a handful of international travellers in each of those countries.

The southern hemisphere will be the first to face an entire season, with a massive head-start.

What to do?

A full lockdown is necessary, right now. People should not send their kids to school.

The Government needs to get every single ventilator into this country that it can get its hands-on and we need to get people trained in how to use them.

Kyle Mervin is a married father of three, a dentist with a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Sydney and has been in a relatively bad mood since 2001.

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