Understandably when it comes to a new virus, there is a ‘learning curve’ among medical researchers as they struggle to learn what makes it tick, how it mutates, how it infects, and — importantly — how it spreads.
Thus, it has taken several weeks for medical scientists in the United States and abroad to get a better understanding of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19). But now, as the global outbreak stretches well into its third month, researchers are beginning to figure out they don’t have another ‘flu-like virus’ on their hands.
They have something with the potential to be far more deadly.
As we’ve seen since January, the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ oftentimes-deadly interaction with the human body makes it a much larger threat than even the worst influenza outbreaks of the century.
Not only is COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, deadlier than the common flu, but for older people, the coronavirus is much more fatal than influenza, Business Insider reported last week.
Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and China’s equivalent agency, the publications noted that in comparison to a 0.83 percent influenza death rate for people age 65 and older, the mortality rate for coronavirus victims 80 and older is a very potent 14.3 percent.
What’s more, the real unknown here is just how fast coronavirus can and will spread as well as the potential for dramatically impacting hospitals around the country that are simply not prepared to deal with massive influxes of patients — who are contagious, by the way, and must be cared for by people who are professional healthcare providers, of course, but are likely just as nervous about getting infected themselves.
And we haven’t even begun to address the fact that hospital equipment and supplies like gowns, masks and gloves are already in short supply thanks to the fact that we import most of these items from China, which has been out of business, so to speak, for a month or more dealing with its own outbreak, so the supply chain is now what you might call majorly disrupted.
The Western Journal noted that in order to put the 14.3 percent mortality rate in perspective, just think of playing a game of Russian roulette.
“Some of the most at-risk patients could load a single bullet into a nine-shot revolver (they don’t make those, but let’s just play along anyway), spin the cylinder, point it at their head, pull the trigger, and still have better survival odds than they would with COVID-19,” the site reported.
Now, the Chinese were caught flat-footed by the outbreak because it originated there. Italy is suffering a high rate of infection and mortality because its population is older, on average, and its hospital capacity is also being taxed. (Related: Yes, coronavirus is airborne and a new study proves it.)
Other countries like the United States are lucky in that they have had some advanced warning. But experts in the U.S. have warned that the federal government thus far has been too slow to respond and, in fact, the window is very narrow to try and contain coronavirus before it spreads beyond our hospital capabilities.
In fact, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned in a series of tweets Friday that the Trump administration had better get its act together quickly if we are to avoid a major outbreak here of the size and scope that Italy is suffering.
“Business is leading the way on mitigation and social distancing, filling a void left by policy makers. But shutting down NBA games is not enough. This must be practiced in places large and small. Small gatherings, parties, all should be postponed for the next month or two,” he wrote on Twitter, according to the UK Daily Mail.