Getting a little frustrated with contradictory and flat-out misinformation popping up in social media and elsewhere, so I’m pulling together the reliable and verified info I can find. This is as much for myself as anyone else, but hopefully it will be useful to others.
I’ll try to update things as needed. Let me know if I’ve missed anything big.
How it Spreads
According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of March 3:
“The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
How Dangerous is it?
My son was getting mixed messages at school about how COVID-19 compares to the flu, and which one is more dangerous. Which…well, it depends.
Numerically, the flu is far more widespread and dangerous so far. According to Johns Hopkins’ Medicine, as of March 2, we’re looking at approximately 90,279 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and 100 cases in the U.S. There have been approximately 3,085 COVID-19 deaths worldwide, and 6 in the U.S.
But we’re in the early stages of COVID-19, and those numbers are increasing.
For comparison, there are about a billion cases of the flu worldwide and between 9 million and 45 million in the U.S. each year. The flu causes between 291,000 and 646,000 deaths worldwide, and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. per year.
The Clinical Fatality Rate for COVID-19, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is 2.3% overall, per a study of roughly 72,000 cases, updated February 11. For comparison, the mortality rate for the flu is about 0.1% annually.
The Chinese CDC found that the CFR is higher for elderly and critical ill patients:
- 14.8% in patients 80 and older
- 8% in patients ages 70 to 79
- 49% for critically ill patients
In addition, “CFR was elevated among those with preexisting comorbid conditions—10.5% for cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6.0% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer.”
There are a lot of factors to consider here. We’re still developing tests and treatment for the disease. Milder cases may be going undetected. Treatment will vary depending on health care in a given country, and how overwhelmed the medical system is.
From the CDC, ” There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.”
There’s currently no vaccine for COVID-19. According to Time Magazine, Moderna Therapeutics is hoping to have a vaccine ready to begin human testing as early as April of this year.
Per the National Institutes of Health, as of February, “a randomized, controlled clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of the investigational antiviral remdesivir in hospitalized adults diagnosed with COVID-19 has begun at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.”
Protecting Yourself from COVID-19
Unless otherwise indicated, these tips come from the CDC.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Especially:
- after going to the bathroom
- before eating
- after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If at all possible, stay home if you’re sick.
- Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is effective against COVID-19.
A note about facemasks: “The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.” (emphasis added)
- Get your damn flu shot. COVID-19 symptoms can be similar to the flu, so protecting yourself can save you the fear and panic of a false COVID-19 alarm. Plus, you know, it can save you from getting and spreading the flu.
- Take care of your health in general. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise … all those basic steps that can strengthen your immune system.
Don’t be a Dick
For example, don’t avoid Chinese restaurants because you think “those people” might have the virus.
Also, when talking about the dangers of the disease…
A friendly reminder: people who will be high-risk patients if we get coronavirus can hear you when you reassure everyone we’re the only ones who might die.— Alexandra Brodsky (@azbrodsky) February 29, 2020
March 3, 2020 @ 2:48 pm
Thanks, Jim. A few more points:
It’s important to note that the CFR is always higher than the IFR (infected fatality rate) – the IFR includes those who aren’t sick enough to go get care.
South Korea has done a really good job with surveillance testing (testing thousands of people including those not known to be sick) to get a more realistic picture of the range of severity, prevalence, etc. Numbers coming from there are those I’d consider most trustworthy.
Masks are only useful when worn by someone who is sick, to prevent them spreading the illness. Don’t rush out to buy protective equipment – the highest priority needs to be making sure it’s available for healthcare providers.
March 3, 2020 @ 7:22 pm
Yeah here in San Antonio with our local health emergency and closing of Northstar Mall for cleaning, people panic a bit. But most are pretty level headed. I just cannot believe the people who are verbally angry about the people being quarantined here. We have lots of medical here and it is a Military city.
March 4, 2020 @ 9:26 am
Thanks Jim. A helpful round up.