I had basic questions about the coronavirus but wasn’t able to find answers, until a friend pointed me to a podcast. It is called The Daily, produced by the New York Times, and it features an interview with Donald G. McNeil Jr., a health and science journalist.
The interview addresses questions about the coronavirus — how does one get it, how lethal is it, what precautions to take, etc. You can listen to the audio or read a transcript of the interview.
I’ve used information from the interview to create an FAQ.
Note that the interview was conducted on Feb 27th, 2020 and this was the information available as of that date.
How lethal is the coronavirus?
Based on a study China conducted on the first 45000 cases, 80 percent were mild, 20 percent were varying degrees of seriousness and 2.3 percent died. This mortality rate is 20 times more than seasonal flu, which is at 0.1 percent. By comparison, SARS has a mortality rate of 10 percent and MERS 30 percent.
In China, majority of the fatalities have been elderly Chinese men. Since 50-80% of Chinese men smoke, their lungs are not in shape to recover from a severe lung infection. Also, if you’re over 65, your immune system starts weakening.
There have also been cases of 30 year olds dying from the coronavirus, particularly the case of Dr. Li Wenliang. A higher dose of the virus can lead to a more serious infection, which is probably what happened to Dr. Wenliang, since he was dealing with coronavirus patients.
Children are very unlikely to get the coronavirus but we don’t know why that’s the case.
How does it spread?
Coronavirus is very transmissible. It is not as transmissible as measles but slightly less so than the flu. We still don’t know why it is so.
It is spread mostly by coughing and by touching surfaces.
Is there a treatment or vaccine?
There is no medicine yet that cures the disease. Antibiotics are only being used to prevent secondary infections in people with the virus.
A vaccine for the virus is going to take at least a year to produce as it has to go through rigorous testing.
What was the most severe pandemic in recent history?
It was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, with an estimated death toll of 40 to 60 million people.
The Spanish flu came in two waves — the first wave was in the Spring of 1918 and it was scary. Then it faded away in the Summer. It came back in a second wave in the Fall and Winter of 1918-19, and it was far deadlier the second time.
What happens next?
The outbreak could go in any direction. While it could fade away as the weather gets warmer in currently affected areas, there is a chance it could come back in a big wave in the Fall and we might not have a vaccine by then.
How can one prepare?
Mentally prepare for an outbreak. In affected places, people have not been able to use public transportation and supermarkets have run low on food. Supply lines from China have been cut off, so we might run low on medicines in the coming months. Stock up on medicines and food in case there is an outbreak in your city. Be prepared to stay home for a month.