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Coronavirus no more deadly than seasonal flu

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Its fatality rate is likely to be around 0.1 percent, 20 times lower than the current reported rate of 2 percent. Some hospitals are already supporting this revised view and have reported fatality rates of around 1.4 percent.

But the true rate could be lower still, and that’s because the symptoms can be so mild that people never realise they have been infected; in fact, the true rate of infection could easily be double that being recorded. Interestingly, there have been no cases reported among children under the age of 15 at the time of writing, suggesting either they have special immunity or that symptoms are even milder in children.

As with the seasonal flu, those at risk include elderly people with existing health problems such as asthma or with compromised immune systems.

The incubation period seems to be an average of 12 days, and an infected person is, on average, spreading the virus to just over two other people. Researchers say the outbreak will be contained only when an infected person passes it on to just one other person.

But with the seasonal flu claiming around 650,000 lives globally every year, the coronavirus will need to be 20 times more lethal to be even comparable. Far more lethal were the SARS virus, which claimed the lives of around 10 percent of sufferers, and the MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) virus, which has a fatality rate of 36 percent.

(Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, 2020; doi: 10.1056/NEJMe2002387)

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Article Topics: immune system, infection
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