It’s a “false hope” that COVID-19 will be seasonal and subside in the summer, like the flu, the World Health Organization said Friday.
“We have to assume that the virus will continue to have the capacity to spread,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program, said at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva. “It’s a false hope to say, yes, that it will disappear like the flu.”
“We hope it does. That would be a godsend,” he added. “But we can’t make that assumption. And there is no evidence.”
Earlier in the outbreak, U.S. health officials said there was a hypothesis among mathematical modelers that the outbreak “could potentially be seasonal” and relent in warmer conditions.
“Other viral respiratory diseases are seasonal, including influenza and therefore in many viral respiratory diseases we do see a decrease in disease in spring and summer,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a Feb. 25 conference call. “And so we can certainly be optimistic that this disease will follow suit.”
Earlier in the day, the total number of COVID-19 cases surpassed 100,000 worldwide. The majority of the cases are in mainland China, followed by South Korea, Iran and Italy. In the United States, there are at least 233 cases and 14 deaths, according to data complied by John Hopkins.
During a press briefing Monday, WHO officials said they don’t know how COVID-19 behaves, saying it’s not like influenza. They added that while much is known about the seasonal flu, such as how it’s transmitted and what treatments work to suppress the disease, that same information is still in question when it comes to the coronavirus.
“This is a unique virus, with unique features. This virus is not influenza,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We are in uncharted territory.”