By John Salak –
There is nothing good about the fast-spreading coronavirus now threatening millions. But if there’s any solace to be found in the calamity, it comes from indications that this current influenza does not appear as deadly on an individual basis as previous influenza epidemics.
The current coronavirus admittedly is reaching pandemic levels with cases being reported in more than 50 countries and on every continent save Antarctica. By February 26th almost 82,000 people had been infected worldwide with more than 2,770 reported deaths.
China remains the epicenter with 96 percent of the reported infections and 86 percent of the related deaths. Chances, however, are that the disease’s reach will continue growing in the coming weeks and perhaps months as it expands throughout Asia, continues its push across Europe and the Middle East and starts to make deeper inroads into North America.
In the process, the number of infected in the United States is likely to grow significantly from the 60 cases now reported. “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, announced at a late February news conference in an effort to prepare the US population.
There is no good news in any of these reports but there are relative degrees of bad news, especially when compared to previous outbreaks of similar coronaviruses such as SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012.
The current outbreak of coronavirus has already infected many more individuals worldwide than SARS did at just over 8,400 or MERS at 2,400. The total number of deaths is also already significantly higher than the 813 who died from SARS or the estimated 850 who died from MERS.
The one somewhat brighter spot for the current coronavirus pandemic is that while spreading wider, it seems to exact a lower percentage of fatalities at about 3 percent compared to just over 9 percent for SARS and about 35 percent for MERS.
The reasons for the lower percentage of fatalities is the result of several factors. Most cases of the current coronavirus are relatively mild and many countries are somewhat better prepared to deal with epidemics or pandemics thanks to the experiences gained from the SARS and MERS outbreaks. Early detection, quarantines and better treatment facilities also are key factors.
Yet, as with any influenza, older patients or those with existing conditions are always at greater risk.
“Although understanding of this disease continues to grow, most people with severe illness have been of an older age or had other significant existing medical conditions,” the Mayo Clinic reported recently. “This is similar to what is seen in people who have severe infections with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.”
There is no specific treatment for the coronavirus. Prevention remains the most effective way to stay healthy. Measures recomended by the Mayo Clinic include:
- Sanitizing hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based solution.
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands.
- Staying away from those who are
- Staying home from work, school and public areas if you’re sick.