Like everyone else I’ve been reading about the coronavirus for the last couple of months and trying to decide how dangerous this bug is. The situation in China was alarming but also puzzling. The information was obviously being parsed by the Chinese government there to minimize the negative impact on their economy and reputation. Now that the virus is global, better information is emerging. I found a very useful website that not only has all the data that is available from the health organizations but also some helpful tables and graphs that make clear some of the characteristics of this outbreak.
Something that I had heard but didn’t have good information on was the correlation between age and mortality rate. This table will put that into perspective.
Notice that in general, the mortality rates for this virus are much higher than the seasonal flu. 0.2% of people in their twenties who catch this die. Compare that with the seasonal flu where the mortality for that age group in the United States is considerably less than 0.002%. So this measures a thousand times deadlier than the flu. But the joker in the deck is that’s comparing flu statistics for the United States versus what are mostly deaths in China. Now that the bug is spreading outside of China we are seeing the proportion of critical cases sink.
Look at the lower curve which shows the death rate over time. What this reflects is the improved statistics we now have and the better care that patients receive in regions with modern healthcare infrastructure. Without a doubt, this virus is much more virulent than seasonal flu. Its mortality rate is thirty times higher (3% vs, 0.1%). That’s nowhere near the thousand times higher rate we saw above, but it’s still really high. In 2018 61,000 Americans died from the flu. 80% of those were the elderly. If coronavirus really is thirty times deadlier that means 1,800,000 Americans will die from this virus, of which 1,440,000 will be elderly. That’s a big number. And now being personally on the upper side of the age divide that of course makes it even more interesting! The seriousness of the virus is precisely why so many people are taking additional precautions to limit its spread. One of the most popular things to come out of the pandemic is the increased use of PPE, especially face masks. Because of the demand for them, they can be particularly difficult to acquire normally in the store which is why many are sourcing them online on sites like this – https://www.sciquip.co.uk/products/ppe/disposable-medical-face-masks.html.
Here’s my takeaway. It’s still too soon to know if the estimates on mortality are as high as they seem. It will take testing of the general population to tell if we’re underestimating the number of people who have been exposed to the virus but have been counted among the regular flu sufferers. If the actual mortality rate is closer to the 0.1% that a normal flu virus has then this won’t cause much more than the panic that is currently roiling the stock market.
But if it is as high as even 1% and it becomes a pandemic, then it’s going to kill a lot of old people. It won’t kill many younger people and almost no children. That probably means it won’t shut down the economy. It won’t even shut down the school system. But it will fill up the hospitals and funeral homes and empty out the nursing homes. Pretty grim thought. Will it become a pandemic? It’s starting to look like it already has. All over the world, people seem to be dying of this disease. Currently, there isn’t that much research on the disease, but it is known that it can impact the lungs quite significantly. For those concerned that they might have caught Coronavirus, it might be worth comparing your lungs to someone with the disease. To do this, people could use the COVID-19 lung ultrasound imager from Butterfly Network, for example. That device helps people to see their lungs, allowing them to see if they are inflamed. If they are, it could be a sign that the person has the disease. With this information, this person may want to contact their local healthcare department for treatment to ensure this disease doesn’t spread much more. Whilst we don’t know much about this disease, it’s important for people to take extra precautions to keep everyone safe. Soon we’ll find out if it’s the flu or the angel of death for the elderly.