Novel Coronavirus: I Was Wrong Before, It Is Deadlier Than Seasonal Flu

With so much misinformation, it is important to get the facts straight. Still, I’m not panicking

I had written that we should not panic about the Novel Coronavirus amid the scary headlines. Well, A LOT has happened since that post. Unlike the financial markets, we still should not panic. Panic only leads to chaos and misinformation, and this is the worst reaction we can have to his new threat to public health.

That said, it is also very important to understand the facts. I wrote that the seasonal flu was deadlier than this Coronavirus. I was wrong. It is actually way deadlier than the seasonal flu. When the CDC calculates mortality rates, including pneumonia, then the rate is about 7%. The case fatality rate from influenza itself is actually quite low (way less than 1%), even though flu can still be quite deadly, and we need to get a flu vaccine every single year.

Even though this virus is deadlier than seasonal flu or the Spanish flu, I am still not panicking.

The death rate from the coronavirus, however, is much higher: anywhere between 4–15%, as the CDC reports on its website. This number, however, is misleading because, it is only in hospitalized patients, and it does not include all patients infected with the virus. As of Feb 27, 2020, according to the World Health Organization, there have been 78630 confirmed cases worldwide. Of those, there have been 2747 death. This equates to a 3.5% mortality. This is deadlier than the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed about 2.5% of those infection (50 million people).

So, this coronvirus is a big deal, and we need to treat it as a big deal. As a critical care specialist, I am preparing to treat patients with this infection. My colleagues and I are constantly discussing what to do if a patient were to arrive at our institution. I am still not panicking.

We need to be vigilant. We need to wash our hands often. Clean surfaces often, as well. We need to practice appropriate cough etiquette. If we are sick, we should stay home to avoid infecting others. If we are really sick, we should seek medical attention right away. We should get the flu vaccine and other vaccines if they are medically indicated and appropriate. We need to do the things that everyone should do to prevent the spread of any illness.

What we should not do is panic. Even though the mortality rate of the coronavirus is higher regular flu, the vast majority of people who get the illness do just fine. Let us all work together to make sure this newest infection does not get out of hand, all the while not heading into a panic. That’s the worst thing we can do.

The opinions expressed in this post are mine and do not reflect those of my employer or the institutions with which I am affiliated.

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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