Novel Coronavirus: Don’t Panic Amid The Frightening Headlines

We need to put the numbers into perspective

The headlines are very scary. Every day, more and more people are getting infected with this mysterious, novel Cornonavirus originating in China. As I write this, over 37,000 people have been infected, and the death toll has reached 811, including the doctor who first raised alarms about the infections. As of now, Coronavirus has killed more people than SARS did more than a decade ago.

Indeed, this infection is scary. It has spread very quickly, it has killed hundreds of people, and no known antibiotics can treat the infection because it’s a virus.

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a “betacoronavirus” which has its origins in animals. It is like the virus that caused both SARS and MERS. For most people, the infection causes a cold, or flu-like illness. For some, however, the infection can be deadly — causing serious pneumonia and other conditions that can lead to death. That’s what makes it so scary: it seems that knowing which person who gets infected will become deathly ill is totally unpredictable.

Putting the headlines into perspective

Again, this pandemic is scary. There is no doubt about that. At the same time, we need to put the numbers into perspective. The death rate from this novel Coronavirus is quite low: 811 deaths out of 37,198 infections gives a mortality rate of 2.1%. This rate has remained consistent as the number of infections has continued to grow.

As the numbers clearly show, influenza is far more deadly an infection than this novel Coronavirus.

Every death is a tragedy. I’m not minimizing the 811 deaths that have occurred. At the same time, contrast this mortality rate with that of influenza: thus far, there have been up to 31,000,000 infections killing up to 30,000 people. The most recently reported mortality rate is 7.1% There have been 78 pediatric deaths.

As the numbers clearly show, influenza is far more deadly an infection than this novel Coronavirus. I see these patients every year in my ICU, and it can make people very, very sick. Last year, according to the CDC, less than half of adults got the flu shot. More kids got the shot, thankfully: over 62%. Still, that’s not enough coverage for an infection that kills thousands each year…way more than this Coronavirus.

I am not saying we should not be vigilant. This infection has affected global markets and has captured headlines and attention. It has even caused reactions of xenophobia. This is wrong. We mustn’t let fear get the best of us and cause completely unnecessary division and racism.

And, Coronavirus is far less deadly of an infection than the flu, which many people take lightly. We shouldn’t. We should get the flu vaccine if we haven’t gotten it already. Here are more tips from the CDC:

There is currently no vaccine to prevent 2019-nCoV infection. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However, as a reminder, CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Stay home when you are sick.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

No doubt, this Coronavirus is a serious illness, and we need to be vigilant, as a country and healthcare profession. At the same time, we need to not panic and keep everything in perspective.

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.

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