Keeping a blog current can be difficult. I have a tendency to want to write long posts, and I have a number I’ve started then never gone back to because I feel the time has passed for them, something else is important or… whatever. =) I don’t know why but it can be difficult to just write something short and then fire phasers.
I tend to stay away from too much news-related items. I feel that people escape to books and they want to relax and not be antagonized by hearing people preach or lecture. The events of the past few months though, make me want to write a little about what’s going on.
I’ve been watching the coronavirus saga unfold since early on and I was worried about it when news of it was just breaking. China isn’t known for their honesty and the news that WAS coming out – censoring doctors, it is related to the SARS/MERS family, lockdown of an entire city – didn’t bode well. I really enjoy science and reading about biology, physics, space, etc., is one of my (many) hobbies and I took some microbiology and biology classes when I flirted with going into those fields. Anyway, as time wore on and more drips of information came forward it only strengthened my view that the virus was worse then the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) initially let on and second, that out of the gate they did little if anything to contain and investigate effectively. They knew something like SARS was going on (which ultimately had a death rate of about 10%), but went forward with celebrations where huge numbers of people were gathered (including a banquet with over 40,000 families).
There were – and still are – a lot of people who say it is nothing; that the flu kills over ten thousand in the US each year. Unfortunately they give short shrift to the key differences that mark these two viruses. Most of us get flu vaccines every or almost every year – we have a long history with influenza and generally, despite it being pretty contagious, the death rate is about 0.1% every year. SARS and MERS – which had fatality rates of approximately 10% and 35% respectively, were not as easily spread but much more likely to result in death. Part of the reason for this is that SARS, MERS and the nCoV-19 are all members of the coronavirus family, a different branch, if you will, from the flu. There are only seven coronaviruses that have made the leap to humans; we don’t have vaccines, and our bodies have limited experience with them. It takes a while for your body to build an immune response to a new invader it hasn’t seen before, which takes a toll on your body if the illness is severe, and especially if you have co-morbidities (pre-existing conditions that can complicate your illness). The new coronavirus has a few other things that make it particularly dangerous – it is more lethal (between 0.9%-3.0% we think), spreads easily and asymptomatically, with people infected still showing a high viral load even AFTER they start to feel better, AND they can start to show symptoms LONG after they were first exposed. This means they can transmit it without feeling sick and even when they think they are on the mend (usually viral loads in mucous drop off as the virus progresses).
All this info, as I said, has been drip-drip, until other countries outside China started seeing cases and were able to independently identify and examine patients. Another worrying thing? Apparently the virus can last for over three weeks on surfaces too. So combine all these things (SARS and MERS didn’t have the same ease of spreading), along with a higher death rate and I personally think it has the potential to be far worse than the flu.
It all depends on how many people get exposed, frankly. Many people experience minor or no symptoms, which makes it difficult to know who truly has it. But if a LOT of people contract it, then even taking a more modest mortality rate – like 2%, the number of dead can be huge; we could look at hundreds of thousands of people dying if ten million are infected; for scale, between 5% and 20% of the US population get the flu. We are looking at unimaginable numbers of dead if a similar number get the novel coronavirus. Our hospitals will be swamped, with over ten million sick and many needing oxygen if they are seriously ill. It’s not something to just brush aside.
That being said, there’s no reason for hysteria at the moment. There are almost sixty known cases in the US, and a few thousand being monitored, many are in quarantine after being abroad. It is always prudent to have a few week’s worth of supplies and medicine on hand anyway, and now is a good time to remember and practice good handwashing protocol. Wipe down carts in grocery stores before use, cough into your elbow if you need to, and don’t go to busy areas or on plane flights if you don’t need to. Pandemics and widespread diseases like the 1968 flu or 1918 Spanish flu aren’t very common, but the CDC is the BEST in the world. There might be some growing pains as they deal with a real-world large scale epidemic, but they will get their footing quickly. Unfortunately, a lot of this relies on people self-reporting or being honest and we have already had two admissions of Americans lying about symptoms or blowing quarantine, and that is more of a risk than anything. So… practice prudent safety measures, don’t touch your face, be a little cautious but I don’t think it’s time to panic quite yet.
Wishing you all the best health,
P.S. Yes, I am still writing! Just starting Chapter 48! =)