SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Update, March 4th, 2020: The Wuhan Coronavirus Has a Much Higher Fatality Rate Than the Flu

Today The New York Times newspaper reported (original, archived copy):

The head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the global mortality rate for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, was 3.4 percent, a figure that primarily reflects the outbreak in China, where the vast majority of cases have been detected.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director general, said in a news conference in Geneva that Covid-19 was deadlier than the seasonal flu but did not transmit as easily. “Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported Covid-19 cases have died,” Dr. Tedros said. “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.”

The estimate takes into account the growing number of infections being recorded outside China, mostly in Iran, Italy and South Korea.

“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, Covid-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” meaning more people can be infected and some will suffer severe illnesses, Dr. Tedros said. The coronavirus does not transmit as efficiently as the flu but “causes more severe disease,” he added.

This new overall case fatality rate (CFR) of 3.4% is significantly higher than regular seasonal influenza, which usually has a CFR of 0.1%. As I have written before, about the broadest research study of clinical outcomes published to date, the actual CFR varies by the infected person’s age, weight, and the presence of any underlying health conditions:

Some sobering statistics from that study of 72,314 cases, the largest conducted to date, are:

– 81% of cases are mild, 14% are severe, and 5% are critical (the case fatality rate for critical cases was 49.0%; in other words, half of the critical patients died)
– the case fatality rates were 8.0% in patients aged 70-79 years and 14.8% in patients aged ≥80 years (I worry for my parents)
– the case fatality rates were 10.5% for people with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6.0% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer

How to Prepare for a Potential Pandemic

Here, once again, is a reminder of what you should be doing to prepare: mentally, emotionally, and physically/logistically.

You will probably need to prepare to stay isolated in your homes for a period of several weeks, avoiding contact with as many other people as possible, as a wave of illness caused by the Wuhan coronavirus sweeps through your community, forcing schools, businesses, and public transportation and public gathering places like movie theatres and shopping malls to close (as we already seen in Wuhan and many other cities in China, as well as places such as South Korean, Iran, and Italy). The time to prepare for the imposition of quarantines and social distancing policies by local governments is NOW.

If you need lists of how to prepare and what to buy in order to get your household ready for a potential pandemic, here are six suggestions to help you get started:

You will need to have on hand:

  • At least two weeks of food and other supplies (toilet paper, first aid supplies, soap and hand sanitizer, garbage bags, etc.). There are already reports of panic buying in many places around the world, including North America. You do not want to leave it to the last minute! If you cannot find any hand sanitizer, you can make your own (see recipe below).
  • Refills of all your presecription medications, plus a stock of over-the-counter medicines (talk to your doctor and pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of your prescription medication).
  • Power sources (flashlights, extra batteries, car chargers and adapters for your mobile devices, etc.).

Other things that you should do:

  • Sign up for any local alerts from your city, state/province, or federal government (or know where to find the information on the Internet). Find out what plans your employer is making (and if they’re not making them now, they should be).
  • If you haven’t yet, get your seasonal flu shot. It can’t hurt, and it will help to figure out whether or not you do have SARS-CoV-2 if/when you do become sick. Many areas now give out the flu shot for free.
  • Train yourself NOT to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth! The SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain viable on hard surfaces anywhere from 2 hours to 9 days (scientific journal article source), and you can transfer the virus from your infected hands to your mouth, nose, and eyes by touching or rubbing them.
  • Watch the following video from the World Health Organization on how wash your hands! Yes, I know I have posted it before. You may think you already know how to wash your hands properly, but you still might learn something you didn’t know before. Proper hand hygiene will also help you avoid catching regular seasonal colds and influenza, so there’s a net benefit to society.

How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer

There have been reports of panic shopping in various countries around the world, including in North American. In particular, hand sanitizer is in short supply, with many stores being sold out of stock. Fortunately, if you cannot find sanitizer to buy, you can make your own. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
2/3-cup rubbing alcohol (99% isopropyl alcohol)
1/3-cup aloe vera gel (GEL, not liquid)

Directions: Add the alcohol to the aloe vera gel and stir. Using a funnel, pour the mixture into a pump bottle; you can use cleaned soap bottles for instance, or you can find inexpensive pump bottles at dollar stores. If you have empty store-bought hand sanitizer bottles, you can use those.

If you wish, you can add 8-10 drops of essentials oils. Lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint and orange oils, which have been shown to have some antibacterial properties (source), would be a good choice.

My local drug store had aloe vera gel in stock, but they were sold out of isopropyl rubbing alcohol, but I was able to order some on Amazon last night, and it should arrive next week sometime. I have enough regular hand sanitizer to last me until then.


Good Sources of Information on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

Here is my updated list of good, credible, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (formerly called 2019-nCoV and now officially called SARS-CoV-2; the disease the virus causes is now called COVID-19):

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are three good places to check:

Stay informed, get prepared, and stay healthy!

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