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COVID-19

No, coronavirus isn’t the same as the flu

Aches and pains, sore throat, fever -- although they may feel similar to those suffering from their symptoms, the novel coronavirus is not the same as the seasonal flu, experts have stressed. (Paywall Free)

No, coronavirus isn't the same as the flu
Photo: AFP

Mortality

COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, proves deadly in around 3.5 percent of confirmed cases.

While this is not the same as its mortality rate, given many people may be infected but not realise it, it is significantly higher than seasonal flu, which typically kills 0.1 percent of patients.

“There is still considerable uncertainty around the fatality rates of COVID-19 and it likely varies depending on the quality of local healthcare,” said Francois Balloux, Professor of Computational Systems Biology at University College London.

“That said, it is around two percent on average, which is about 20 times higher than for the seasonal flu lineages currently in circulation.”

Serious cases

But the true danger of coronavirus is unlikely to be the death toll. 

Experts say health systems could easily become overwhelmed by the number of cases requiring hospitalisation — and, often ventilation to support breathing.  

An analysis of 45,000 confirmed cases in China, where the epidemic originated, show that the vast majority of deaths were among the elderly (14.8 percent mortality among over 80s).

But another Chinese study showed that 41 percent of serious cases occurred among under 50s, compared with 27 percent among over 65s.

“It's true that if you're older you're at greater risk, but serious cases can also happen in relatively young people with no prior conditions,” said French deputy health minister Jerome Salomon.

Contagiousness 

Disease experts estimate that each COVID-19 sufferer infects between two to 3 others.

That's a reproduction rate up to twice as high as seasonal flu, which typically infects 1.3 new people for each patient.

Vaccine/treatment 

Salomon said that humans have lived with influenza for more than 100 years.

“We've studied it closely,” he said. “This new virus resembles the flu in terms of physical symptoms but there are huge differences.”

Number one is the lack of a vaccine against COVID-19, or even any treatment shown to be consistently effective. 

While some trials have shown promise delivering anti-retroviral drugs to serious cases, as well as some experimental therapies, their sample sizes are too small to roll out to the general population.

Hundreds of researchers around the world are working frantically to find a COVID-19 vaccine, but the development process takes months and is likely too late for the current outbreak.

Even if a vaccine magically appeared, getting everyone access it to it is no small order. Health authorities regularly complain that not enough people receive the flu vaccine to guarantee “herd immunity”. 

Similarities

But the new virus does share some characteristics with flu, notably the measures each one of us can personally take to slow the infection rate:

Avoid shaking hands, frequently wash your hands with soap and water, avoid touching your face and wear a mask if you are sick.

Such actions can limit new infections just as they can with the flu, gastro illnesses and other infectious diseases.

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HEALTH

‘Kur’: The alternative treatments you can get from a doctor in Austria

In Austria, prevention and self-recovery play a big part in the healthcare system. Here are some alternative treatments that might not be prescribed elsewhere.

'Kur': The alternative treatments you can get from a doctor in Austria

The style of healthcare in Austria is often different to other countries, especially when it comes to prescribing medication.

This is because doctors in Austria have a holistic approach to medicine with a preference for natural and alternative treatments. This is so ingrained that it can even be difficult to get a prescription for antibiotics or sleep medication.

For some, alternative treatments and a focus on the power of rest for recovery can be a good thing. Particularly when compared to many western countries where there is a culture of presenteeism and a habit of dishing out medication without dealing with the cause of an illness.

FOR MEMBERS: Six things to know about visiting a doctor in Austria

But it can also be confusing (and frustrating) for people that are used to leaving a doctor’s office with a prescription for medicine, as opposed to an alternative treatment.

Here’s what you need to know about healthcare in Austria.

How does healthcare work in Austria?

Social insurance (which covers healthcare) is compulsory for people living in Austria, unless you have private comprehensive insurance.

Enrolment in the public health care system is generally automatic and is linked to employment, including self-employment. Insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, as well as pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.

The cost of healthcare is linked to income rather than health needs. 

READ MORE: Spas, pregnancy and contraceptives: What Austrian healthcare covers – and what it does not

But Austria actually operates a two-tier healthcare system, so residents can have their own private policies as well. Likewise, doctors can choose to work with public or only private patients – or both.

Also, expect a different style of bedside manner in Austria when compared with many other countries – most notably in a lack of small talk.

It is not rare for consultations to last just a few minutes, a drastic change for people from South America, for example, where doctors sometimes spend 30 to 60 minutes talking to patients. 

What alternative treatments can be prescribed?

One of the most well-known (and most surprising) alternative treatments in Austria is a Kur. This is a spa break for rest and recuperation and it must be prescribed by a doctor.

A Kur is covered by social insurance and the aim is to keep people in work by allowing them some time out to recover from an illness or injury. But don’t expect a chilled-out week by a pool as a Kur usually involves a rigorous schedule of physio and massage. 

For some people – like those diagnosed with Long Covid or recovering from burnout  a stay at a medical rehabilitation facility for several weeks might be prescribed. In this case, the schedule might include sessions with a psychotherapist, as well as physical therapy to aid recovery. Again, the cost is covered by social insurance.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Another alternative treatment that can be prescribed by a doctor is for a package of infrared (Infrarot) sauna sessions. This is often for people with back or mobility issues.

Similarly, a referral (Überweisung) to a physiotherapist is given out to people with injuries, usually far quicker than in countries like the UK where it can take several months to access physio through the public health system.

And controversially, some Austrian doctors still prescribe homoeopathic remedies in exceptional cases. An example would be when all other treatment options have been exhausted and homoeopathy could improve the situation.

How to get alternative healthcare treatments in Austria?

As with most health issues in Austria, the first step is to visit a general practitioner (Hausartz). Your doctor should then explain treatment options.

In most cases, if an alternative treatment is suitable, then a doctor should offer it. Or at the very least, provide you with a referral to a specialist who could then prescribe a treatment.

However, treatments like a Kur or a stay at a rehabilitation facility are not always prescribed straight away. For example, a Long Covid patient might have to visit a doctor several times before being offered a place at rehab.

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