Reading the various reports, articles, and opinions as well as the various TV reports about Covid-19, one would think it’s either much ado about nothing, Captain Trips (of The Stand) come to life, or somewhere between those two extremes.
It hasn’t been easy trying to parse fact from fiction, separating the factual ‘wheat’ from the mythical ‘chaff’ of hysteria, ignorance, and fear.
Is the coronavirus the next Black Plague or Spanish Flu? Is it nothing more than just another influenza?
It is not just another version of the flu as it has some different characteristics outside what is usually seen with influenza, one of the biggest being that those infected with it are contagious about seven days before symptoms appear. With flu, a patient isn’t infectious until they become symptomatic, generally speaking.
Covid-19 is airborne and can also be spread through feces. Flu can be spread through droplets when someone sneezes, coughs, or through contact with the virus on a surface which is then transferred to the nose, mouth, or eyes.
At the moment the mortality rate appears to be higher than the typical influenza outbreak, with flu usually having a mortality rate around 1% or less. Covid-19 has shown a mortality rate of about 3.3% in China (assuming we can believe the numbers from the Chinese government). It’s even higher in Iran, of all places.
So what should we believe about the coronavirus?
First, that it isn’t as bad as the Spanish Flu.
Second, it isn’t the flu though it has many of the same symptoms.
Third, screening isn’t as effective as it is for other illnesses like this due to its ability to be spread while an infected patient is asymptomatic, hence quarantines of those potentially exposed until after the incubation period.
Fourth, it has infected a lot of medical caregivers, particularly in China. I don’t know if the infection rate is higher for Covid-19 among medical personnel than other viral diseases.
I think the best advice is to not overreact, but don’t ignore what’s happening either. There are precautions that can be taken, basically the same ones we hear every flu season: wash your hands regularly, cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm rather than into your hand, and clean regularly touched surfaces with disinfectants as often as is practical. And should you become sick, stay home. Don’t be a ‘hero’ by going to work when you’re sick. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by infecting your co-workers.