Covid-19: pollution, hospitalizations… has the virus really become less dangerous for health?

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Hospitalizations and deaths associated with Covid-19 are fewer than at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the virus is still one of the biggest causes of death in France. La Dépêche du Midi takes stock.

Alpha, Delta and for almost a year Omicron. In nearly three years of the pandemic, the face of SARS-CoV-2 has changed. Over the course of the pollution waves, the new variants have sometimes been more polluting, more resistant to vaccines – sometimes more dangerous – with the fear of overwhelmed health institutions dominating in the background. On this issue, Omicron has undoubtedly changed the pandemic landscape. More contagious, but less dangerous… In their minds, some put the symptoms of the virus in perspective to such an extent that they sometimes do not hesitate to reject barrier movements and denigrate health recommendations.

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But are we really less at risk today of dying from Covid-19 after being contaminated? At the time of the 9th wave, France still records a great number of hospitalizations. According to the latest figures from Santé Publique France, more than 21,000 patients are currently hospitalized after being infected: “Hospitalizations are still increasing, including in critical care”, describes Professor Antoine Flahault, epidemiologist doctor and director of the Global Health Institute of the Global Health Institute. University of Geneva, med The midi broadcast. He also points out that the hospitalizations currently registered in France “exceed the peaks of the two previous waves. […] The impact of Covid-19 remains significant, although it no longer causes hospital saturation.

A death rate that falls from year to year?

The death rate associated with the virus is decreasing – for now – from year to year. “Covid-19 killed 65,000 people in France in 2020, 60,000 in 2021 and should still kill more than 35,000 people in 2022”, comments Professor Flahault, who admits that the virus therefore “does not kill ‘always as much’ as ​​at the start of the pandemic “. How to explain this phenomenon? For epidemiologists, this gradual decrease in risks associated with contamination is – in part – associated with the emergence of new, less serious variants: “We are now witnessing the emergence of so-called ‘immune escape’ variants, which do not present any aggravating factor for symptoms, but which has strengthened their ability to spread”, describes Dr. Bruno Lina, virologist and member of the Committee for Monitoring and Anticipation of Health Risks (Covars).

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Scientists also welcome, and above all, the role that vaccination has played in the development of the epidemic: “There is collective immunity after previous infections, which slows down the circulation of the virus”, comments Dr. Lina. “It is the vaccine that causes smaller and less severe forms of Covid-19, says Professor Flahault for his part. The variants that are now circulating therefore have a significantly reduced virulence due to the wide vaccination coverage, especially the elderly.” However, the fact that these new variants are more transmissible and more resistant to the vaccines in circulation clouds the picture: these new strains thus cause almost five times more contamination than the first variants of SARS-CoV-2. If more people are affected by this virus, there are also more patients who die from it…

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“Unfortunately, we still have a high absolute number of deaths from Covid-19,” laments Antoine Flahault. Today, Covid-19 is “even game” with myocardial infarction and stroke “which before the pandemic were the first two causes of death in the country”, notes the epidemiologist.

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