The Harvard epidemiologist who predicts that this year between 40 and 70% of the world population will be infected with the coronavirus

The epidemiologist in question is called Marc Lipsitch and, in fact, he is convinced that, in just one year, around 40 and 70 percent of the world population will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. That does not mean that half of the world's inhabitants will have a serious illness. In fact, over 80% of those infected won't even notice and the vast majority of the rest will only have mild symptoms.

Lipsitch is not alone. Furthermore, the WHO itself has asked the world to prepare for a "potential pandemic." From the beginning, epidemiologists warned that the appearance of a new disease opened a huge number of scenarios. The best of them was that we were able to control the disease in the focus of Wuhan and Hubei province; the worst, that the coronavirus turned into a new seasonal disease, a coronavirus endemic, a "new flu".

We knew that since the crisis erupted. What has happened now is that the outbreaks in Italy, Iran, South Korea or Japan seem to want to tell us that we are getting closer to the worst case scenario.

The fifth coronavirus

Today, there are four coronaviruses circulating stably through human populations. Two of them (OC43 and 229E) were identified in the 1960s, the other two (HKU1 and NL63) were discovered as a result of the SARS crisis at the beginning of the century. All of them had been circulating decades or even centuries through different animal species. "We don't usually pay attention to them because [compared to seasonal flu] they are very mundane," explained Stephen Morse of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

However, "they are part of the seasonal landscape of typical winter and spring respiratory diseases" and, more importantly, none of them causes stable immunity in those who contract it. Therefore, no scenario is disposable from the start. Neither the possibility that, attenuated in its coexistence with human beings, becomes an endemic virus, but of little concern; nor the possibility of becoming a recurring visitor in the form of a "severe seasonal epidemic." Above all, now that the situation has changed rapidly in a few days.

As the WHO notes, saying that "we have to do everything we can to prepare for a potential pandemic" is not an invitation to panic. It is to start enabling all the mechanisms in our hands to contain the world, being aware that "we cannot paralyze the world and it is not realistic to say that transmission between countries can be stopped." That is to say, it is becoming increasingly likely that Lipsitch's prediction will come true.

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