COVID-19: Where are we today?

Comparison with other communicable diseases

According to worldometers.info, as of 5 April 2020 (5:30 PM GMT), the total number of COVID-19 cases rose to over a million, with a reported mortality rate of 5%. Further, a comparison with certain other communicable disease-related deaths (Figure below) presents a worrisome situation. As of 5-April 2020, the novel coronavirus disease-related fatalities have exceeded that of malaria and is almost as close to the daily death toll associated with HIV / AIDS. Considering that we are still unable to successfully contain the situation with HIV and the malarial parasite (Plasmodium sp), it seems that the SARS-CoV-2 strain is definitely a serious cause of concern.

Daily death toll, comparing COVID-19 with other communicable diseases that have high mortality

What are people saying?

In the above context, there is a school of thought that believes that the SARS-CoV-2 viral strain is not a death sentence. This is definitely true in comparison to the Ebola, SARS, and MERS outbreaks. However, another (possibly more important) perspective is that there are already a number of terrible viral diseases, and that’s exactly why healthcare professionals don’t want another highly contagious respiratory virus in the picture. Although cliched, the fear of the unknown is still a major cause of worry for the human race. Presently, medical science has reached a standstill in relation to treating seasonal flu. Considering the fact that we know almost all that there is to know regarding the influenza virus, it fuels the belief that medical science is doing its best to slow the spread and reduce the mortality associated with the flu. The same applies to viral strains associated with other recent outbreaks.

How does the SARS-CoV-2 compare to other viral outbreaks

Research, so far, indicates that the novel coronavirus may be deadlier than the seasonal flu, which kills roughly one in 1,000 people. It is also worth mentioning that in both cases (flu and COVID-19), people may be contagious before symptoms develop, making it almost impossible to control the spread of the virus. An analysis of outcomes for more than 44,000 confirmed patients in China found that roughly one in 50 died. In fact, the same report reported that 81% of patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 strain suffered from a mild form of the illness, 14% were relatively more seriously ill, and 5% became critical.

On the other hand, the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen is considerably less dangerous than other coronaviruses, such as the strain responsible for MERS, which kills about a third of people who become infected, and SARS, which kills about 1 in 10.

Pathogens can still be very dangerous even if their fatality rate is low. Even though influenza has a case fatality rate below one per 1,000, roughly 200,000 people end up hospitalized with the virus each year in the United States, and about 35,000 people die. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is gradually nearing a situation where it may become comparable to the flu epidemic of 1918.

A Less Considered Perspective

It is safe to assume that most people who are getting infected by the virus remain asymptomatic, and are thereby, not getting tested. In fact, it is not yet known how many people infected with the coronavirus have only very mild symptoms or none at all. Therefore, it is very likely that if the number of asymptomatic cases is added to the stats mentioned earlier in the article, the situation may end up looking relatively less threatening.