Scientist: Coronavirus Could Be 20-40x More Deadly Than The Common Flu

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A World Health Organization expert said the coronavirus current fatality rate in China is not likely overly exaggerated.

A World Health Organization expert suggested on Tuesday that according to currently available data, there are not many mild cases of the coronavirus being missed by specialists — which means the death rate of 2 to 4 percent in China is unlikely to be an exaggeration, STAT News reported.

That would make this strain of coronavirus 20 to 40 times more deadly than the seasonal flu in the United States.

“I know everybody’s been out there saying, ‘Whoa, this thing is spreading everywhere and we just can’t see it, tip of the iceberg.’ But the data that we do have don’t support that,” Bruce Aylward, who led an international mission to China to study the virus and China’s response, told journalists at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva.

STAT noted that in the early days of a new pathogen outbreak, “it is hugely challenging to look beyond the people streaming into hospitals for care to see whether there are many more at home with a mild cold or manageable flu-like illness.”

If mild or symptom-free cases go undetected, estimates of death rates or the percentage of people likely to end up in the ICU could be lower than what is presently being seen in China, the publication explained.

However, if there are not a significant number of such cases being missed, then countries where the virus is spreading could expect to see similar results as China, particularly if it spreads to the degree seen in Hubei province — the outbreak’s origin.

“What [the data] support is that sure, there may be a few asymptomatic cases … but there’s probably not huge transmission beyond what you can actually see clinically,” Aylward said this week.

But his speculation is not necessarily consensus, STAT noted. Gary Kobinger, director of the Infectious Disease Research Center at Laval University in Quebec, said it is too early to tell from the available data.

“There are mild cases that are undetected. This is why it’s spreading. Otherwise it would not be spreading because we would know where those cases are and they would be contained and that would be the end of it,” he said, adding that some data is missing almost entirely.

Kobinger suggested that “mild, undetected infections cannot be ruled out until people who haven’t been diagnosed with the illness can be tested for antibodies to the virus” — tests that Aylward said are just becoming available in China.

“As long as we do not have good serology data, I think that it is completely speculative to say that there are no undetected cases,” Kobinger said.

But if Aylward is correct in his assessment, the death rate could have an enormous impact.

“A case fatality rate of between 2% to 4% rivals and even exceeds that of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which is estimated to have killed upwards of 50 million people,” STAT reported. “Even a case fatality rate of 0.7% — which means 7 out of every 1,000 infected people would die — is sobering. It is seven times the fatality rate for seasonal flu, which is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year globally.”

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