Currently, in the US, there have been approximately 80 diagnosed cases, and over the weekend, 2 patients unfortunately succumbed to the disease. Worldwide, there have been approximately 80,000 cases with approximately 3000 deaths.
However, of the original 14 patients identified in the US after travel abroad, all are recovered or recovering.
For perspective, this year alone, there have been approximately 40 million flu (Influenza A) illnesses in the US according to the CDC, with 12,000 flu deaths. According to information available from the New England Journal of Medicine, the fatality rate from the flu is approximately .1%, and as high as 2 % from the Coronavirus.
However, this Coronavirus fatality rate is likely much lower since there are likely many cases that have not or were not diagnosed or identified. The 2 deaths in Washington State this weekend suggest community spread, and raise the possibility that there were other patients in the area who had been exposed, but whose symptoms were quite mild, and as such, they did not seek medical treatment. It is hoped that as more testing kits become available, allowing more testing to be performed, that this fatality rate will decline for the Coronavirus. It is also hoped that a "rapid test kit" can be developed to speed up the diagnosis process.
So, the question remains, "what do we do to protect ourselves?" As the Surgeon General said this am, " this is a time to be cautious, not panic." Simple measures that we should all do to protect ourselves from the flu as well Covid-19 is frequent handwashing (for 15-20 seconds). Hand sanitizer can be helpful, but actual handwashing is superior. Frequent wiping down of surfaces is helpful, especially if your're around someone with cold symptoms. Covid 19 has been associated with a cough and high fevers. If you have these symptoms or know someone who does, self quarantine is essential.
If travelling, avoid accepting drinks and food from flight attendants, who have contact with so many passengers. And then there's the issue of facemasks... The problem with masks is that most people wear them incorrectly. One of the ways that the disease can spread is by touching your face with your hands, and by wearing a mask, you may be touching your face more, thereby increasing your risk. As a practice, I always wash my hands after I put on a mask.
Recently, I saw a woman wearing a mask on her chin...that obviously won't help! But I hope this little blog has provided some useful information, and keep a lookout for our March Madness and St. Patty's Day specials!
Have a great week.
Heidi Williams MD