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Genetic Linkage

How the “F” word—flu—led to confusion as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded

As the world sought to cope with the growing coronavirus outbreak, there was a common refrain uttered by those failing to grasp the severity of this health crisis: "Oh, it's just a bad flu." In fact, they couldn't have been more wrong. Thinking that a novel virus is exactly like a familiar one is like assuming that a guinea pig is the same as a rat.


The confusion arises from using "flu" to denote the familiar litany of respiratory misery, fever and fatigue. These symptoms are mostly due to the response of the immune system to infection. But the specific illness "influenza" is actually due to infection from an influenza virus (not to be further confused with the tiny bacterium Hemophilus influenzae).


The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, puts it succinctly. "This virus is not SARS, it's not MERS, and it's not influenza. It is a unique virus with unique characteristics."


To continue reading, go to Genetic Literacy Project, where this post first appeared.

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