What is it about the Coronavirus that makes it so deadly?
  • SHIV NALAPAT

On 10 February, the death toll from the novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, officially exceeded that of the SARS outbreak of 2003. As per the latest figures, there have been 40,628 registered cases of the coronavirus, with 910 reported deaths. The virus, which was officially confirmed by China to the World Health Organisation on 7 January, has unleashed havoc in the now quarantined Hubei region over the last two months, with Chinese authorities still struggling to contain its spread. Although Wuhan is widely believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak, it has now already spread to 28 countries, with deaths reported in Japan, Philippines and Hong Kong as well.

Why is it so dangerous? 

Although authorities are closely monitoring and studying the virus, the speed at which it is spreading is currently the greatest concern. As per the latest reports, the virus is believed to spread from person-to-person through droplets produced when an individual coughs or sneezes, similar to the manner in which influenza (the common cold) spreads. These droplets may gather on the nose or mouths of other individuals before being inhaled into the lungs. It is still unclear whether one can catch the virus from touching surfaces upon which droplets may lie, and then touching the mouth or nose.

Despite this, the transmission rate of the virus appears to be much higher than that of the SARS strain. According to figures from the World Health Organisation, the SARS virus infected approximately 8,000 people, claiming 774 lives. As such, the virus had a fatality rate approaching ten per cent. The Coronavirus, on the other hand, has a fatality rate between 2 and 3 per cent.

To put this into perspective, influenza (seasonal strains or others like H1N1) can infect millions but has an extremely low rate fatality rate of just 0.1 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the Ebola virus, which between 2014 and 2016, had a fatality rate of 40 per cent. However, unlike influenza or the Coronavirus, the Ebola virus spreads through the transmission of bodily fluids like saliva, urine, sweat, faeces or semen) and blood, making it harder for a single infected person to infect others in comparison to the 2019-nCoV strain.

What is it about the Coronavirus that makes it so deadly?

Some reports show that, on average, a single individual is likely to infect between 3 and 4 others before the Coronavirus is diagnosed, and the infected person is quarantined. The reason for such a high transmission rate is due to its variable incubation period which, in some cases, could extend to two weeks. The incubation period refers to the time between when an individual becomes infected by the virus, and first shows symptoms. During this period, the virus is still contagious and can spread to others in close proximity to those infected.

The World Health Organisation has also released statements confirming that although approximately 80 per cent of those who succumbed to the disease were over the age of 60 (75 per cent had pre-existing health conditions), people of all ages can catch the disease. A situation report released on 27 January showed that the median age of cases outside China stood at 45 years.

The views expressed by the author are personal and do not in any way represent those of  AIYJPA .

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