Coronavirus will likely begin to spread throughout the U.S. soon, as the Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday, sparking fears that the virus will harm Americans. But just how deadly is it? Not particularly, researchers say.
While the new coronavirus, officially termed COVID-19, has quickly gone through China and 47 other countries — with South Korea, Italy and Iran being particularly hard-hit by the respiratory illness — researchers in China have found that the fatality rate is low, at 2.3 percent among confirmed cases.
The fatality rate nationwide was also skewed by the high numbers in Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. There, the fatality rate was 2.9 percent, while the rest of the country was at just 0.4 percent.
And of the thousands who had coronavirus at the time of the study, published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on Feb. 11, the vast majority were not seriously at risk. Of the 44,672 cases analyzed in the study, over 36,000, or about 81 percent, were mild.
Those with mild cases experienced fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing problems, and were able to make a full recovery. Researchers said that the difference between mild and severe cases was that the people with severe cases developed pneumonia, defined as an infection of the lungs.
In critical cases, people went into respiratory failure, septic shock or multiple organ dysfunction, The New York Times reported. But just 14 percent of cases were considered severe, and less than 5 percent considered critical.
Additionally, the majority of deaths from coronavirus occurred in people 60 or older with pre-existing conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. And men died at a higher rate than women — 2.8 percent for men, and 1.7 percent for women.
The SARS outbreak in 2002, in comparison, did not infect as many people, but had a much higher fatality rate of 9.6 percent, according to CNN.
The downside to the mild symptoms is that they are harder to spot, as they don’t appear to be that different from the common cold, another type of coronavirus. That means people may not realize that they have coronavirus, and continue their usual activities while inadvertently spreading the disease.
“If infection does not cause serious disease, infected people probably will not end up in health care centers. Instead, they will go to work and travel, thereby potentially spreading the virus to their contacts, possibly even internationally,” researchers said in the New England Journal of Medicine on Feb. 20.
Currently, the CDC is recommending that Americans begin “to prepare for a significant disruption” to their lives if the coronavirus spreads, and to anticipate school and office closures. As far as prevention, the CDC says that following basic hygiene practices, such as hand washing and avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing, is the best course of action.