Keeping perspective on the coronavirus outbreak

News about the coronavirus that recently spread from Wuhan, China, has increasingly made headlines and filled news segments, yet epidemiologists and infectious disease experts are cautioning the public against panicking.

“We don’t have evidence yet to suggest this is any more virulent than the flu you see in the U.S. each year,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a January 26, 2020 Los Angeles Times article. “Most people, with proper medical attention, will do just fine.”

According to current data, the disease has a fairly low mortality rate. Although coronavirus has sickened 2798 and 80 have died as of January 27, 2020, the viruses that cause several other infections—severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory virus (MERS), and certain subtypes of the flu virus—have had much higher mortality rates, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The coronavirus’s current mortality rate could also be an overestimate if mild cases of infection are not being detected, Mina told the Los Angeles Times on January 24.

Even if the coronavirus is not especially lethal, other characteristics of the virus—such as how easily it is transmitted from person to person—are still unknown, fueling fear and even panic. “Something as horrific as Ebola can seem better than this, because we’ve had years to understand it,” Mina said. “As humans, we are always fearful of the [un]known.”

Mina is hopeful that the outbreak can still be contained, citing the recent development of a rapid test for the infection. “It gives some hope that we may be able to control this, because we were able to roll out a diagnostic so quickly,” he said in a WebMD article posted on January 22. “Although there are a lot of unknowns, this has probably been the fastest response to date of any epidemic.”

Read the January 26 Los Angeles Times article: Coronavirus spreads to Los Angeles, Orange County: How concerned should we be about spread?

Read the January 24 Los Angeles Times article: Should you panic about the coronavirus from China? Here’s what the experts say

Read the January 22 WebMD article: Mystery Coronavirus from China: What to Know