Posted on 5 March 2020
Over the past week, the prospect of widespread infection in many Western countries has shifted from a possibility to a likelihood. With panic-buying of masks and food making the headlines, perhaps it’s time for a reality check. How dangerous is COVID-19 to the average person?
On Tuesday, the WHO director general stated that around 3.4% of reported cases had resulted in death. However, the true mortality rate is very difficult to estimate accurately, as cases with mild symptoms are much less likely to be documented.
Furthermore, the ability of different countries to keep track of cases will lead to varying estimates, while true mortality rates will also depend on healthcare quality.
As far as gauging personal risk is concerned, a single death rate figure is not particularly helpful either. According to a Chinese study, the majority of deaths occur in the elderly, and in those with pre-existing conditions.
For the vast majority of people who are in good health and not elderly, symptoms will not be severe: some respiratory symptoms, sore throat, runny nose, and a fever lasting perhaps a week at most. Thus, for most people, the effects of coronavirus will be similar to those of seasonal flu. Those who are young and healthy should be more concerned about transmitting the disease to other, more at risk groups.
Vital Surveillances: The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) — China, 2020: http://weekly.chinacdc.cn/en/article/id/e53946e2-c6c4-41e9-9a9b-fea8db1a8f51
Coronavirus: What are the chances of dying?: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51674743
Vaccine Knowledge Project: Influenza (flu): https://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/vk/influenza-flu
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