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The coronavirus (COVID-19) in perspective

Posted: Friday, March 6, 2020. 4:52 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: Belize has begun to see cancellations for hotels associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) despite not yet recording a single case in the country.

But as has been noted, seasonal influenza annually kills more people than coronavirus has so far. In the United States, an estimated 32 million Americans have come down with influenza since this year’s flu season began in late September, resulting in about 18,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of reported coronavirus infections is significantly smaller, with 177 reported cases and 11 deaths, per the Los Angeles Times.

Times reporter Deborah Netburn summarizes the fear of coronavirus, which shares similar symptoms with regular influenza virus – fever, body aches, cough, fatigue – as fear of the unknown.

As explained by Dr. Otto Yang, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to the Times, “The enemy you don’t know is much scarier than the enemy you know.”

Influenza has been studied and vaccinated against for years, and past feared epidemics such as SARS and swine flu saw vaccines quickly created. There is also natural immunity built up from bouts of the flu. But coronavirus COVID-19 has only been active for three months and has no vaccine ready in the next 18 months, nor are there any active medications specifically designed to target it, though researchers are testing existing antiviral medications to see if they can help patients with COVID-19, the Times reports.

What worries authorities is the lack of knowledge of how the coronavirus spreads. Influenza is transmitted from person to person by droplets that leave a sick person’s mouth when they cough, sneeze or talk. Those droplets can travel three to six feet and infect anyone in their path.

The coronavirus spreads through droplets as well, researchers say, and it may be capable of airborne transmission too. And research is still being done on how long the virus can survive on outdoor surfaces.

But it has spread to 89 countries and territories in six continents in weeks and is suspected of having a higher mortality rate than the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that claimed 2.5% of all infected.

Although four out of five cases of COVID-19 result in mild illness, the director-general of the World Health Organization said this week that the mortality rate of COVID-19 could be as high as 3.4%.

But for the moment, the only people being tested for the coronavirus are those showing symptoms of infection. There could be just as many people — and perhaps even more — who have the virus but show no signs of infection, or have symptoms so mild they were not tested.

Yang said it’s certainly possible that the true number of people who are infected is 10 times greater than the number of people who have confirmed cases of COVID-19. In that case, the true fatality rate would be closer to 0.2%, he said, still higher in the U.S. than the 0.14% fatality rate of seasonal flu last year.

But with proper precautions, coronavirus can still be contained, and it is always best to sleep with one’s own eye.


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