Realistic assessment of Wuhan virus impact should guide health policy

coronaOur reliance on models, be they for climate or the spread of diseases, always bites us in the ass.

Take the disease models, for example.

The Wuhan virus outbreak which is currently spreading around the world and devastating country after country has prompted health officials and governments to basically shut down our economies and society.

These drastic measures are being justified on the basis of models which show that the novel corona virus is easily spread and has a high mortality rate.

The problem is that we won’t actually know that for years to come.

This is an incredibly hard to thing to accept. We want certainty. We want definitive answers. We don’t want our loved ones to die.

In 2009, the swine flu which began in Mexico and spread to the United States and then the world was a pandemic of the first order, killing thousands around the world, primarily young people.

But most people do not understand that there is considerable debate even today as to the extent of the disease’s impact.

At the time, health authorities in the United Kingdom were estimating 60,000 or more Britons would succumb to the virus.

Today, the World Health Organization and the Centre for Disease Control  puts the world death toll at just under 20,000.

There are studies, though, that suggest that the death toll was 10 times higher than that.

In the United States, when the pandemic was raging, researchers were saying the death rates from the swine flu were actually lower than the normal flu.

Yesterday, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial by Dr. Anthony Fauci wherein his preliminary analysis suggests the mortality rate from the Wuhan virus is comparable to that of the common flu:

On the basis of a case definition requiring a diagnosis of pneumonia, the currently reported case fatality rate is approximately 2%.4 In another article in the Journal, Guan et al.5 report mortality of 1.4% among 1099 patients with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19; these patients had a wide spectrum of disease severity. If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza (similar to those in 1957 and 1968) rather than a disease similar to SARS or MERS, which have had case fatality rates of 9 to 10% and 36%, respectively.2

All of which ought to have people taking the lurid medical pornography we see in the news media with a grain of salt.

It will be years before we know the true story of this virus.

In the meantime, it would be wise to exercise a little common sense.

We cannot shut down our economies for a year until a vaccine is tested and produced. We will have nothing left.

We know that the virus is a devastating disease in the elderly and those with underlying conditions.

Surely, we are capable as a society of affording those people protection without forcing everyone to go into seclusion and stop working.

In other words, we need an exit strategy from this war against an invisible enemy.


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