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Covid-19 Cases Spike During Autumn Amidst Emergence of New Variants


The arrival of the fall season typically coincides with the return of the flu, and this year is no exception for Covid-19. As temperatures drop, there is a noticeable uptick in Covid-19 cases in the Northern Hemisphere, with the emergence of new variants.

What's the current status of Covid-19? The Covid-19 pandemic has left a devastating mark, claiming nearly 7 million lives globally. Fortunately, thanks to vaccines, acquired immunity, and the advancement of better treatments, the virus is now more manageable.

Dr. Ashish Jha, a physician and former White House advisor, suggests that if he had to choose between the flu and Covid-19, he would opt for Covid-19, as individual flu cases tend to be more perilous. However, while Covid-19 is rarely fatal nowadays, it does seem to carry a higher risk of long-term complications.

Moreover, Covid-19 is more contagious than the flu. Though not bound by a particular season like the flu, it has exhibited peaks between December and January in the past three U.S. winter seasons, just preceding the flu season.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh Adalja affirms that Covid-19 remains unquestionably more dangerous than common colds.

Should I consider getting a booster shot? Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax have all developed updated vaccines tailored to the current circulating variants.

Getting vaccinated was crucial during the peak of the pandemic, and there's a consensus that booster shots are beneficial for the most vulnerable populations. However, there is no unanimous agreement on whether young and healthy individuals should receive a revaccination.

Studies indicate that virtually everyone in Western countries has been exposed to Covid-19. This exposure, combined with vaccination, has contributed to training the immune system to provide defense.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, a medicine professor, points out that recommending universal vaccination without discrimination could erode trust in authorities. Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA vaccines carry a risk of myocarditis, especially in young people. Consequently, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany advocate annual booster shots exclusively for at-risk groups.

Nevertheless, some experts argue that the vaccine-related risks are minimal. Epidemiologist Dr. Ziad Alai asserts that even individuals with a low risk of severe Covid-19 cases can benefit from booster shots. The United States recommends booster shots for all adults during the upcoming fall.

What about mask-wearing? The issue of mask-wearing has become a sensitive topic, particularly in the United States.

According to an analysis by the Cochrane Collaboration, encouraging mask-wearing hasn't shown a clear impact on slowing virus transmission.

However, laboratory tests confirm that high-quality masks (N95 in the United States, FFP2 in France, etc.) offer protection. Hence, people have the option to wear masks indoors, though it's generally unnecessary, given the protection provided by vaccines, as per Dr. Gandhi.

Is Covid testing still necessary? Experts concur that individuals at risk, such as the elderly or those with underlying health conditions like cancer, obesity, or diabetes, should continue testing if they experience symptoms. This enables timely administration of antiviral drugs, which can prevent worsening of their condition.

The primary treatment is Paxlovid, developed by Pfizer.

Certain countries, such as the United Kingdom, believe that testing for at-risk individuals is sufficient and provide free tests for them. UK health authorities advise that "most people no longer need to be tested" and encourage staying home if feeling unwell to prevent further spread.

What about long-term Covid? The challenge in researching long-term Covid (with symptoms persisting for several months) lies in the lack of a universally agreed-upon definition, according to Dr. Adalja. It is estimated to affect 4 to 7% of the global population, approximately 65 million people, as stated by Dr. Alai.

Dr. Adalja emphasizes that regrettably, there hasn't been significant progress in treating long-term Covid, and it should be a global priority.

Vaccination appears to reduce the risk of developing long-term Covid, often associated with the severity of the initial infection.

The U.S. government has funded multiple clinical trials aimed at better understanding this condition. One of these trials found that a diabetes drug reduced symptoms by 40%, and more findings are expected to be published in the coming months.