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A CNN reporter broadcasts from Wuhan, China, on the recent viral outbreak. There is nobody near who could possibly infect him — unless the cameraman has Guinness Book of Records coughs and sneezes. So why does he insist on wearing a blue surgical mask while talking?
It’s called “drama,” which is badly needed, because there appears to be nothing very special about this outbreak of the 2019-nCoV or Wuhan virus. It should actually be called the DvV, or Déjà vu Virus, because we have been through these hysterias before. Over and over. Heterosexual AIDS, Ebola repeatedly, the H1N1 swine flu that was actually vastly milder than the regular flu and, especially, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.
Once you start debunking mass hysteria over outbreaks, it gets easy, because the same patterns repeat themselves.
The best remedy for all epidemic hysteria is perspective. How is this new outbreak different and thus potentially more dangerous from other diseases we have dealt with in the past or are dealing with now?
Wuhan is repeatedly labeled “deadly” — but so is every other virus most people know about. But especially deadly? Nearly 600 cases have been confirmed with at least 17 reported deaths.
An infected American is reportedly doing well. It’s probably true that the death toll is understated, but it’s guaranteed the infection number is. Probably as with, say, flu, the vast majority of those infected have such slight symptoms, they don’t seek medical attention.
For that reason, a comparison to the US flu death rate is also very difficult. As a share of hospitalizations, the regular flu death rate is 8.5 percent to 17 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — considerably higher than for Wuhan. But counting all estimated illnesses, reported and estimated, it’s much lower.
What we can say for sure is that Wuhan will be a lot worse in China, simply because health care there is vastly inferior. It appears that, like flu, Wuhan usually kills through often treatable secondary infections. Well, treatable in the West. You’d be surprised at how many potentially deadly diseases (malaria, TB) Americans get that wreak havoc in much of the world but kill essentially none of us.
It also appears those most likely to die of Wuhan virus fit the same profile as flu fatalities: people over 65, those with compromised immune systems and those with serious pre-existing conditions. Two of the 17 Wuhan dead were 89-year-olds with pre-existing conditions; the youngest was 48 and suffering from diabetes and a stroke.
Contagiousness is highly important, of course. But so far, there is no evidence that Wuhan, first reported more than three weeks ago, is more contagious than influenza or spreads differently.
Those are the important factors; everything else is noise and tinfoil-hat paranoia.
We are breathlessly told it’s spread from human to human. Again, most of the contagious diseases we think of are spread between humans, with some exceptions, such as rabies.
It’s inherently bad because it’s new, we’re told. So were swine flu and SARS.
Chinese health officials warned it could mutate further to either become more deadly or more contagious. Same was said about the aforementioned outbreaks. Actually, viruses usually mutate to become less deadly, to preserve the host body and hence themselves.
The media are correct in saying the closest comparison here is SARS. It also was first reported in China and was what’s called a coronavirus. But while they want you to remember SARS as akin to the Black Death with cries of “Bring out your dead!,” fact is, there was a grand total of only 8,098 cases, of whom 774 died. Then the disease simply disappeared. More than 7,000 of those cases and about 650 of the deaths occurred just in mainland China and Hong Kong. The United States had just 75 cases and zero deaths.
By contrast, the CDC estimates about 80,000 Americans died of flu two seasons ago.
So if you want, buy a (probably worthless) surgical mask to play “twins” with those “courageous” TV newsmen. Or you may consider that flu shots are still available.