Knowledge is power, so during the last few months I've been learning as much as I can about this virus from medical experts and by reading books about other pandemics, like the terrible 1918 Spanish Flu.  There's still a lot about this virus that scientists don't understand, and what they currently believe could change over the coming weeks and months with more research.  I'm not a doctor so I'll defer to the medical experts, but I've summarized below what is currently known about this virus:  

  • The coronavirus is much more contagious than the flu, but it's not as contagious as the measles.  However, unlike the measles or flu, there is no vaccine for it and there won't be for at least a year.  That means that our first-responders, including the doctors and nurses who treat the virus, are vulnerable to catching it themselves.  That's a serious concern because many of our healthcare facilities are already understaffed.
  • The fatality rate of the coronavirus is 10 to 20 times higher than the flu, which itself kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year.  My mother died of flu complications years ago, so I’m familiar with how a flu situation can deteriorate and become lethal.
  • The coronavirus is transmitted mainly via airborne particles, like from a sneeze or cough.  And like any virus, it needs a cell to live in and multiply.  But it can linger on surfaces, and for different durations depending on the material.  On porous surfaces like paper, it lives for only a few hours or a day or two.  But on hard surfaces, like a doorknob or plastic, it can linger for up to three days.  Generally speaking, the harder (and colder) the surface, the longer it can live.  You most likely can't get the virus by picking up your mail, but just to be safe, I pick up my mail only once a week now.  The chance of you transferring it with your shoes, like from walking around your house, is very remote.  
  • The first symptoms are often a dry cough and fever.  On average, symptoms emerge about five days after exposure but perhaps as few as two or as many as 12 days.  That's why doctors recommend a 14-day quarantine period after suspected exposure. 
  • If you're infected, you can transmit the virus even if you show no symptoms.  About 80% of all coronavirus cases in China were transmitted this way, by people who didn't realize they even had it.  Let me repeat:  most transmissions were caused by people who didn't even realize they had coronavirus.  This is one thing that makes this virus so dangerous and is why testing is so important.
  • Based on what we know so far, the effects of coronavirus on the general population are as follows:
    • About 40% who get the virus will have mild symptoms or none at all.  In China these were mostly younger folks.  But in Europe in the U.S., younger folks are more susceptible to serious complications than what happened in China.  In a sense, this the most dangerous group because, without realizing they're sick, they can still transmit the disease.  
    • For another 40%, the symptoms will be much more severe, perhaps like a mild pneumonia, but not severe enough to require hospitalization.
    • For the remaining 20%, hospitalization will be needed.  These tend to be older folks but it also includes the very young, including infants and toddlers, and young adults, too.  In other words, while in China the young were largely immune to the virus, that same pattern doesn't seem to be occurring to quite the same extent in Europe and the U.S. (i.e., everyone is susceptible).  Many who need hospitalization have underlying health issues, especially obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
      • In this group, about half – or about 10% of the total infected population – will need to be monitored closely, perhaps with treatment of certain symptoms (like the antibiotics I received in 2014 when I got pneumonia).
      • But the other one-quarter to one-half -- up to 10% of the total infected population – will need I.C.U. care and perhaps a ventilator (a machine that helps a person breathe -- it's not fun).
      • The fatality rate for those who are infected seems to be around 2%.  This is on par with the Spanish Flu of 1918, the worst pandemic in history, which killed tens of millions of people around the world.  The fatality rate for the coronavirus is much higher than that in some countries and a bit lower in others.  In China, the fatality rate for those over 80 years of age who are infected, however, is very high, about 15%.  Also in China, men were much more likely to die from coronavirus than women:  64% of fatalities were men and 36% were women of the 72,000 infection cases studied there.
    • These statistics are for the general population.  In China, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions were more vulnerable.  Age doesn't seem to be as much of a determining factor in Europe and the U.S., however, so everyone needs to be careful.
  • It's not yet known if a person who's been infected with the coronavirus can get re-infected, or instead, if they develop an immunity to it.  If they develop an immunity, it's probably short-lived, like months and not years.  That's why a vaccine is so important.
  • If the situation in the U.S. escalates like it did in China, the U.S. will quickly run out of hospital beds. That’s because many facilities here are already at or near capacity.  For instance, in the U.S. there are only 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people, while in Italy there are 3.2, China has 4.3 and South Korea has 12.8.  The U.S. faces a similar shortage of ventilators (the breathing machines) and respirators (the masks).  If the situation escalates in the U.S., difficult decisions will need to be made about who can and can’t be treated (i.e., who lives and who dies, like what's going on in Italy right now).  This is why it's important to "flatten the curve," as they say. 

Don't worry because we'll get through this -- but only if people listen to the medical experts and not the politicians.  Stay well, my friends!


Special Section:  Coping with Corona





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