Wuhan coronavirus: why everyone talks about it if it just seems to be one more "flu"

In 2002, the flipping of the tailpipe appeared to become the first epidemic of the 21st century. A few months later, severe acute respiratory syndrome had spread worldwide, infecting thousands and killing more than 800 people.

In the shadow of this event, at the end of last year, the first data emerged on this condition of an unknown coronavirus to date. The uncertainty, the doubts, the information that comes in droppers and the actions of China, the country where the outbreak originated, are giving much to talk about. But what reasons are there to worry about? What data do we handle and how does it differ from other influenza epidemics?

Differences and similarities: the story of a virus

It is impossible not to make the comparison with severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. First of all, because we are talking about the same types of viruses: coronaviruses. Secondly, because its origin is also Asia. Specifically, with the first and that of Wuhan, its origin is again in China. The parallels are many: the speed with which it spreads, the little information with which it appears, its genetic value, who are the victims ...

However, are these reasons enough to alarm us? Last week, the WHO decided not to launch the global public health emergency due to the data that has been handled so far. Still, the virus is being watched closely. Why? Let's see it by contrasting some data.

Flu virus vs coronavirus Wuhan, what fatality does it have?

Currently there are 81 official deaths, 54 recoveries and those affected are estimated at thousands. The estimated lethality of the virus, at this point is 3%, only for immunosuppressed people, the elderly or those with significant respiratory problems. Although it is very difficult to estimate the lethality of the common seasonal flu, the deaths are between 291,000 and 646,000 people a year, and about ten million affected. This gives an approximation of 4%, also for people at risk.

If we compare it with SARS, which would be the case under consideration, this syndrome had a lethality of 10%, and MERS with up to an overwhelming 42%. Given these figures, which are still preliminary, the Wuhan coronavirus is shown to have even less lethal potential than ordinary seasonal flu.

Does it spread faster than other viruses?

Like all coronaviruses, the 2019-nCov spreads very fast, although only by direct contact, as we know right now. An important difference from other similar influenza viruses is that it can also be spread during its incubation period. Viruses typically pass to another carrier at the time of illness. The Wuhan virus, as we say, does not. It can happen at any time.

Despite this, the virus appears to be evolving in a controlled way, according to estimates presented to date. In part, we owe this success to the prompt action taken by both China and the WHO together with the rest of the countries, which have put in place containment and control measures quickly. We can easily see the result: almost all the infected, and all the deceased, are in China. If we compare it with SARS, which spread over almost 30 countries and caused deaths in a dozen of them, the figures, although early, we insist, are much lighter.

What if we compare it to other viruses?

Take, for example, the case of ebolavirus. In 2014, an epidemic in Guinea raised media alarms. To this day, however, this virus continues to kill thousands of people. Although it cannot be compared, due to its characteristics, being contemporary allows us to put them on a par and evaluate their consequences. Only with the first number we realize the true importance of one and the other.

For example, ebolavirus has a 50% case fatality and is terribly virulent. The times that you have come out of the countries where the epidemics appear are usually dramatic. Ebola remains an international public health emergency today. By contrast, the Wuhan virus, according to the WHO committee's evaluation, is not, as they stated last week.

So why is everyone talking about the Wuhan virus?

There is genuine concern about the evolution of this virus. This arises from the two cases that we have mentioned before: SARS and MERS. These coronaviruses, although different from the 2019-nCOV, have left a deep mark on Asian society. Especially in China, where the parallelism is clear: an outbreak that was ignored, escalation in patients, a quick response but not enough ... and the lack of information.

The Chinese government has a tendency to control all the information that comes out of its people. Although the WHO has assured that their collaboration is commendable, the truth is that social networks are helping to breathe another environment from the country. Of course, the images are taken out of context, but they do not avoid asking ourselves what we know for sure.

Fear of an unknown virus and lack of information, coupled with sensationalism, make an incredibly effective mix. But the truth is that it is still early to draw conclusions. For the time being, the virus, its spread and its lethality, are fitting perfectly with the figures estimated by virologists. The WHO is following all the information closely, but they warn that this is not the time to be alarmed. In addition, the data is there, to contrast them and decide if the time has come to worry or not.

Images | Wikimedia, CNN

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