2 Cents on Coronavirus from an ER Doc on the Front Lines

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Influenza kills about 30K+ people per year in the US. The fear isn’t that this COVID-19 is so much deadlier than the Flu. The fear is that it could be as deadly compounded with the fact that we don’t have a vaccine for it or a Tamiflu-type “antibiotic” for it.

Coronavirus vs the Flu

To put that in perspective though – most people don’t even get their flu shot. Tamiflu isn’t much stronger than a placebo. So we have actually never really had a real flu antiviral. If you haven’t really been scared enough of the flu to get a flu shot you probably shouldn’t be scared of this new Coronavirus now.

From the statistics, they seem to be similar to respiratory infections. Initial reports show the same mortality rate. Probably less when you factor in all of the undetected cases. As with influenza many people actually contract coronavirus without ever having symptoms.

So, what are we talking about?

What we’re really talking about is what if there were a second version of the flu circulating around? Short answer – a lot of people would die from it.

Not to discount any deaths, as all are tragic, but the majority of flu fatalities have always been people with pre-existing issues like severe heart and lung diseases. There are outliers, but most healthy people just experience a severe cold. Nothing I’ve heard reported so far makes COVID-19 look any different.

What’s next with Coronavirus?

The proposals to curtail the spread of this coronavirus like quarantines, school, and work closures would be extremely disruptive. The question is are extreme measures needed and where should the balance of preparedness lie? Now if you could put in place efficient techniques and resources that would prevent the spread of an illness that would kill 30k people per year you would.

On the other hand taking extreme, ineffective, and unsustainable precautions means risking mass hysteria and breeding an unnecessary disruption of daily activities. You can’t shut down schools and workplaces forever over the flu!

Any good news? Well, it’s going to be Spring soon. Respiratory illnesses usually grow dormant in the Spring and Summer. That should give the CDC some time to get experience with using some currently available antivirals against coronavirus for the sickest of the sick. Vaccines are starting phase 1 trials and will be available to the public in 2 years.

We may one day get hit with a pandemic like the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed 50 million worldwide (for perspective less than one million died of Influenza last year). But from what I’ve seen COVID-19 (while nothing to sneeze at) isn’t the Spanish Flu.



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