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December 20, 2021

What disease are Americans worrying about most? (It isn't Covid-19.)

Daily Briefing

    More Americans are worried about developing cancer or heart disease than Covid-19, including Americans who are overweight or have preexisting conditions, according to a recent poll from Gallup. But Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, cautions against pandemic fatigue.

    Americans' concerns about different diseases

    For the poll, researchers surveyed 815 adults from Nov. 1 to Nov. 16, notably before the discovery of the omicron variant. The poll found 50% of respondents were very or somewhat worried about getting cancer, 44% were very or somewhat worried about heart disease or a heart attack, and 41% were very or somewhat worried about Covid-19.

    No more than 13% of Americans were very worried about getting any illness listed in the survey.

    Overall, women were more worried than men about every illness except for AIDS, the poll found. And there were also no significant differences among different age groups in worry about developing Covid-19, despite older people being at greater risk of developing a severe case of the disease.

    In addition, those with preexisting conditions were more concerned about getting heart disease, cancer, or having a stroke than they were about Covid-19, the poll found.

    Similarly, those who are overweight—at a higher risk of severe Covid-19—were more worried about cancer, heart disease, and stroke than Covid-19.

    Should people be worried about omicron?

    In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, said many people wonder why they should be concerned about Covid-19 after early reports suggest the omicron variant causes milder Covid-19 than previous variants.

    Topol noted that "we don't have any evidence that omicron is milder than delta." So far, we know omicron "has induced less severe illness, fewer hospitalizations and deaths. But the primary explanation for that is not the virus, it is our immunity built up from either prior infections, vaccinations, or both," Topol wrote.

    Topol also noted that people should be concerned because a Covid-19 infection "can spread to infections in others, so vulnerable people such as the aged or immunocompromised can get hit." And a person infected with Covid-19 "can still get quite ill with high fevers, loss of smell and taste, and other symptoms, even if there is no pneumonia or other organ injury besides the lungs," on top of concerns about long Covid.

    If omicron displaces delta as the dominant coronavirus variant, "we will likely see more than a million new cases a day in the United States," Topol wrote.

    And even if omicron does cause milder cases of Covid-19, "the enormous number of people infected means we will see the vulnerable … needing hospitalization and those numbers will likely be substantial," Topol wrote. "That means our medical providers and resources will likely be overrun again."

    We're likely to soon have drugs that can prevent the progression of Covid-19, as well as a universal vaccine against all variants of the coronavirus and all future variants, Topol wrote. But until then, "we should use every tool at our disposal to limit the spread of the virus strains. Only in that way will we make progress in transitioning Covid-19 to an endemic disease from the seemingly endless pandemic we face now," he concluded. (Lonas, The Hill, 12/16; Brenan, Gallup News, 12/16; Topol, Los Angeles Times, 12/16)

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