COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Issue: November 2021
Disclosures: Pai and Tirupathi report no relevant financial disclosures.
November 19, 2021
2 min read
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If you could eliminate influenza or coronaviruses, which would you choose?

Issue: November 2021
Disclosures: Pai and Tirupathi report no relevant financial disclosures.
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Influenza viruses and coronaviruses have both caused major pandemics. We asked Infectious Disease News Editorial Board Members Gitanjali Pai, MD, AAHIVS, FIDSA, an infectious disease physician at Memorial Hospital and Physicians Clinic in Stilwell, Oklahoma, and chief medical officer for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, and Raghavendra Tirupathi, MD, FACP, medical director for Keystone Infectious Diseases/HIV, chair of infection prevention at Summit Health and clinical assistant professor of medicine at Penn State University School of Medicine, which group of viruses they would eliminate, if possible, and why.

Gitanjali Pai, MD, AAHIVS, FIDSA

The comparison of fear generated by these two dreaded viruses is a bit skewed in “favor” of COVID-19, simply because the fear let loose by SARS-CoV-2 — a coronavirus — is yet to ebb and we are still discovering its ill effects like long COVID. We are far more well versed with managing influenza and its complications compared with managing COVID-19 and its complications. Currently, our knowledge of influenza makes it more manageable — a milestone we are yet to achieve with COVID-19.

Gitanjali Pai
Gitanjali Pai

Although influenza can have some complications that may last beyond the acute setting, we are still trying to get a handle on long COVID, and at the moment, it appears that the effects of long COVID are far longer lasting than previously imagined, affecting multiple organ systems. The health care burden it might translate to down the line is still unclear and being determined.

On many counts, including speed of transmission, severity of complications, knowledge and availability of treatment, fatality and especially lack of knowledge about the likely prognosis, the fear quotient of COVID-19 is higher.

So today, if we really get a silver bullet as stated in the question, the target could be COVID-19 and coronaviruses.

But of course, tomorrow is another day.

Raghavendra Tirupathi, MD, FACP

If we have learned something from the last 2 decades, influenza and coronaviruses can both devastate our health care and our way of life significantly. COVID-19 has now overtaken the Spanish influenza of 1918 to be the deadliest infectious disease in the U.S., accounting for more than 700,000 deaths. Pandemics always end, and the vaccines have played an especially important role in the current one. SARS-CoV-2 virus may now become an endemic seasonal virus along with other coronaviruses but can cause significant burden on our hospitals, disrupting economic and social stability, especially when influenza and COVID-19 are concurrent in the winter.

Raghavendra Tirupathi, MD, FACP
Raghavendra Tirupathi

It is difficult for me to pick one virus to eliminate, but knowing the range of infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 and the severity of infection, it would be prudent to choose the coronaviruses here. This is in no way to discount the fact that influenza viruses could be equally notorious in triggering the next pandemic.

Bottom line, there needs to be a concerted effort by governments across the world to invest and fund public health resources to avert and limit the next pandemic.

Click here to read the Cover Story, "‘We just have to keep pushing’: universal flu vaccine remains out of reach, for now."