As a very anxious person, seeing news articles about a new type of coronavirus causing chaos across the globe can make it seem like the end of the world is near. However, from conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, I’m even more confused about whether or not this is something I should worry about. Some say, “China isn't disclosing all the deaths!” while others say, “The media is blowing everything out of proportion!” but what is the reality? Do we really know enough to claim that there is or isn’t something to worry about?
Between 30 January and time of writing, there have been 7,500 cases of the coronavirus detected, and 170 deaths have been reported. As of w/c 25 January, the CDC reports that there have been 19 million flu cases in the USA. Of these, 180,000 have been hospitalised and 10,000 people have died. Looking at these numbers, we would expect that more action would’ve been taken to restrict and treat the flu, yet, life goes on. No US cities are on lockdown and public transport is running as usual. This is very different in Wuhan, China, where the illness seems to have emerged from. Over 11 million people have been quarantined, and more than 35 million citizens of other Chinese cities have been affected by lockdowns as well.
Currently, we aren’t even sure of the number of people who have contracted the illness, fought it and survived after just having simple flu symptoms! The percentage of people with the illness compared to people who have died could be completely inaccurate, because of people not giving a second thought to their ‘cold’.
However, after the widespread fear of the SARS pandemic in 2002, coronaviruses are seen as very scary illnesses (even though surprisingly the common cold could also be included as a type of coronavirus!).
Both SARS and this new novel (meaning previously unidentified in humans) coronavirus (2019-nCoV) are, simply put, potentially life-threatening viruses, that can cause symptoms ranging from the common cold to forms of pneumonia. However, they both gain high infectivity rates very quickly, and in both cases, there also isn’t a vaccine to cure or prevent illness. That could be cause for worry, especially for those living in China or surrounding countries. On the other hand, though, the mortality rates are still lower than ‘normal’ flu strains, and those deaths are predominantly those with compromised immune systems.
At the end of the day though, there are ways to prevent the spread of this coronavirus, such as frequently washing hands, keeping surfaces clean, avoiding close contact with people that are sick, and not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Simple actions like this can aid prevention in countries where the coronavirus hasn’t got a large presence yet.
In this scenario, there is the same chance of catching the flu (1 in 3). The outbreak of a new coronavirus strain in a single local area has resulted in a media flurry, and the illness may have been blown out of proportion slightly due to a lack of knowledge of the virus, and statistics that may not be completely accurate.
If you’re interested in reading more about this, Dr Miller wrote an interesting article on Medscape. Reading that commentary, alongside the research I did for writing this article, has calmed me down from the eye-catching headlines. Living in England, I honestly believe the chances of me contracting the illness are low. However, whatever your stance is on this coronavirus and wherever you live, I hope you stay safe and in good health!