Covid-19 may never become common seasonal flu: Finnish experts

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Finnish medical experts believe that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, may never become a common seasonal flu, Helsinki’s Ilta-Sanomat newspaper has reported.

Ilkka Julkunen, professor of virology at the University of Turku, said that SARS-CoV-2 clearly differs from other seasonal coronaviruses that cause the flu, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the newspaper.

“I find it unlikely that the virus would change so dramatically. I don’t see that the coronavirus would become much less dangerous for at least a few years,” he said.

While the Omicron coronavirus variant is widely considered less likely to cause severe disease and require hospital treatment, Julkunen and Olli Vapalahti, professor of zoonotic virology at the University of Helsinki, agree that Omicron is not harmless.

In Finland, for example, more people have died from Omicron than from all the previous coronavirus variants combined, according to Julkunen.

Before November 2021, when the Omicron variant starts to rise, about 1,200 people had died from Covid-19 in Finland. The country’s current coronavirus death toll exceeds 3,000.

According to Vapalahti, it is misleading to describe Omicron as a less severe variant. The virus may cause milder symptoms in a population whose immunity level is higher due to vaccinations or prior infections.

The number of Covid-19 patients requiring hospital treatment in Finland has gradually risen to record levels as the immunological protection provided by two or three vaccine doses wears off.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in late January that the next variant of SARS-CoV-2 could be even more contagious than Omicron.

Since the beginning of this year, increasing numbers of scientists around the world have said that the SARS-CoV-2 virus may never become a common seasonal flu but is likely to continue as a disease that causes severe symptoms and deaths, especially among the elderly.

Julkunen explained that the virus is mutating into new variants all the time, each one becoming more contagious than its predecessor.

Two different viruses can make new combinations in the same cell, Vapalahti noted, recalling that the virus still has a lot of power.

“Recombinants can also occur when two different viruses end up in the same cell. Gene exchange can occur, creating new variants. There is already evidence of this between Delta and Omicron and the two variants of Omicron in Finland,” Vapalahti was quoted as saying.

Still, high levels of immunity from vaccines or prior infection reduce the risk of severe Covid-19 outcomes, the professors emphasised.

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