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It's been over eight months now since the coronavirus outbreak began in China's Wuhan city, but we are yet to find a cure for the deadly disease. The worrying part is that it is still spreading at an alarming rate. As of today (September 17), the virus has infected more than 29 million people and caused 9,31,321 deaths, as recorded by the World Health Organization (WHO). While researchers across the world are racing against time to create a vaccine for novel coronavirus, it's not likely to be available for use by the general public anytime soon. Earlier in July, Mike Ryan, head of WHO's emergencies programme, had said that while researchers are making good progress in developing vaccines against COVID-19, their first use cannot be expected until early 2021. Recently, Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also said that a vaccine was unlikely to be ready until summer 2021. Meanwhile, some experts have raised concerns about the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic in winter, possibly much worse than the first one.
While researchers are very clear about how the virus will behave in colder temperatures, several reports suggest that it may survive longer during the winters. In a report published in The Print, Klaus Stohr, an infectious disease expert who previously worked with the WHO, noted that the epidemiological behaviour of the novel coronavirus will not be that much different from other respiratory diseases, which usually come back during winter. For example, the influenza virus tend to spread more readily in the winter than in the summer.
The Academy of Medical Sciences, UK, also predicted that a peak in hospital admissions and deaths in January/February 2021 with a similar magnitude to that of the first wave in spring 2020.
A study, conducted jointly by researchers at IIT-Bhubaneswar and the AIIMS, also suggested that the decrease in temperatures will favour the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
If we get a vaccine before winter then that will be great, but it is less likely that it will happen. So we need to be well prepared for declining temperatures.
Social distancing and respiratory and hand hygiene measures should be followed strictly without any lackadaisical approach during the winter months.
What health experts are more worried about is that the pandemic may overlap with flu season, which usually starts in October and is at its worst between December and February. This could further strain an already strained health-care system. Both COVID-19 and flu affect the respiratory system, so each of them may make the other one worse. Further, as the two diseases share some common symptoms, telling them apart can be difficult. This will hinder efforts in hospitals to identify suspected COVID-19 cases. Therefore, it is recommended that everyone should get the flu vaccine this year.
Health experts believe that getting a flu shot will help avert hospital crisis and also offer some protection against severe COVID-19 infection. WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward had also stressed the need for widespread anti-flu vaccinations amidst the pandemic, suggesting that it may also help prevent the risk of coronavirus complications.
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