Ever notice how misinformation about a virus spreads faster than the virus itself? It happened with H1N1. It happened with Zika. Now, it’s happening again with the current coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak. As with all misinformation and misunderstandings, some are kind of hilarious (see #1), but some are downright tragic (#2). Below are 10 things that will help ease your mind about 2019-nCoV.
10 Things You Need to Know About the Coronavirus Outbreak
*Disclaimer & background- I am not a medical professional, nor is this meant to be taken as medical advice. I was a nursing student and a CNA (just certified, I never actually did anything with it except use it to better my health writing). I’m also a total virus geek and an excellent researcher. Based on extensive research, here are ten things you really need to know about 2019-nCoV.
1. It has NOTHING to do with beer
I don’t know if it’s a joke (gods, I hope it is), but apparently a lot of people are searching for things like “Corona beer virus,” and “virus from beer.” So, #1, the Coronavirus has zip, zero, zilch, nothing, nada to do with Corona beer, or any beer for that matter.
I know you know that (my readers are smart!) but there are just enough people who believe it that it bears mentioning. In fact, it seems that more people are searching for beer virus than there are actual cases of the virus!
2. There is NO evidence to suggest that you can get it from your pet
People in China are apparently KILLING their pets by throwing them out windows, because of bad misinformation about how the virus spreads. Again, I’m not sure how true or widespread this is, but if even one person throws their cat out the window because of bad information, it’s worth mentioning.
As WHO explains, there is NO evidence that your cats and dogs can be infected or infect your with the 2019-nCOV.
3. Antibiotics won’t help at all
As the name suggests, the coronavirus is a virus. Antibiotics fight bacterial infections. Ergo, they will NOT do a thing to prevent, treat, or cure coronavirus. Antibiotic overuse leads to nasty things, like MRSA, VRE, and resistant strains of pneumonia. So please, don’t try to pressure your doctor into giving them to you and don’t start popping leftover penicillin (which, if you took it correctly in the first place, you wouldn’t even have).
4. “Outbreak” don’t mean what you probably think it means
Thanks to movies, books and TV shows (all of which I love), when we hear the word “outbreak,” we immediately think of body bags lining the streets, little red X’s on doors, and Dustin Hoffman coming up with a last-second vaccine to save our town from being nuked.
The CDC has a good lesson on terms used in epidemiology.
Epidemic refers to an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area. Outbreak carries the same definition of epidemic, but is often used for a more limited geographic area.
Basically, an outbreak is a sudden uptick in cases beyond the normal. If the “normal” is 0 and 10 people get it, technically it’s an outbreak.
Pandemic has the same basic definition, except it’s a disease that’s gone on a world tour (affecting multiple countries,with a large number of cases). As of now, all reliable sources are calling 2019-nCOV an “outbreak.” Only a few click-bait news source are calling it an epidemic or pandemic.
5. Neither does “public health emergency”
Another phrase that often incites panic, “public health emergency” doesn’t mean what it sounds like, In the US, it essentially means that the government releases resources used to combat a real or potential health emergency. In other words, it just makes it easier for health organizations to act quickly (in theory, anyway).
So, it doesn’t mean that we’re all going to be quarantined any day now, just that if the need to quarantine came up, the CDC and other organizations would have the means to make it happen fairly quickly. It also means that they can more easily get the funding they need to research treatment options.
6. It’s not as widespread as the media would have you believe
Every other news story is about the coronavirus outbreak, leading us to believe that it’s spreading like proverbial wildfire. In actuality, there have been about 14,000 cases and right around 300 deaths, give or take (and depending on what day you read this).
So, basically, it’s affected 0.0002% of the world population. According to the CDC there have been 241 suspected cases, 121 unconfirmed, and 6 confirmed cased in the US, as of 1/31/20.
In other words, it’s affected so few that the percentage of 241 out of 327 million is so small, it’s expressed in powers and exponents ( 7.37×10-5 %) that my brain can’t even comprehend. Maybe someone who understands math can put it into actual numbers for me?
7. This isn’t 1918 and we’re not “overdue” for a pandemic
Whenever any new virus emerges, at least one news source brings up the 1918 Spanish Flu. “Could [insert novel virus here] be as deadly as Spanish flu?” “We’re overdue for a pandemic and the last one killed millions!” Click-bait, click-bait, click-bait.
Here are two things you need to understand. One, we’re not “overdue” for a pandemic. We’re in the middle of one: HIV/AIDS. We’ve been in the thick of it for decades now. It’s killed tens of millions.
Two: It’s not freaking 1918 anymore. We have a better understanding of how viruses work. We know how to create vaccines. Heck, we know how to wash our hands! Yes, widespread travel means diseases spread easier than the plague years. Yes, clear-cutting the rainforest is exposing us to newer and deadlier viruses all the time. However, we’re also learning faster, reacting faster, and preventing better than our great-grandparents did in 1918.
8. Coronaviruses aren’t a new thing
While 2019-nCoV is a “novel” strain, coronaviruses in general aren’t new. Again, according to the CDC, there are 4 common types and 3 “others” that affect humans. 2019-nCoV is on the “other” list, along with SARS and MERS.
Like rhinovirus, coronaviruses are a pretty standard cause of the common cold. However, the CDC does point out that this isn’t quite the same as the “common” types, just like SARS wasn’t quite the same.
9. You can get it if you’re an average healthy person…
Just like the average healthy person can come down with the common cold, they can also be infected with the coronavirus. Makes sense, since we learned above that they are often the cause of common colds!
Here’s another graphic from WHO that explains it:
10…but it probably won’t kill you (or even make you sicker than the average cold)
That said, you’re probably not going to die if you do manage to contract it. I keep seeing dubious news sources listing the mortality rate as high as 64%. Based on the current number of confirmed cases versus deaths, it sits at around 2.4%-ish.
Yes, that still sounds high, but remember, it’s based on fairly low numbers to begin with. WUSA9 has an excellent article that explains the math in better and more detail than I can. For the majority, symptoms (if you experience any) are more likely to feel like a bad cold or mild case of the flu: fever, cough, shortness of breath.
Of course, none of this means that the coronavirus is nothing to worry about. It just means that you probably don’t need to worry as much as the media would have you believe. Use common sense and follow basic prevention guidelines. Wash your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t make out with people who are clearly sick.
WHO also recommends avoiding direct contact with animals in live markets in infected areas. That does NOT mean avoid contact with your cat. It means if you happen to go to an infected area of China, then happen to go to a marketplace where you can buy live animals, don’t go petting and snuggling the chickens.
Last (and this will pretty much render three hours of writing and 1300+ words moot), the only truly reliable sources for up-to-date information regarding the coronavirus (or any virus, for that matter) are organizations who actually exist solely to study health issues.
The CDC and WHO are my go-to sources for information, and nearly everything in this article came from research on their sites. That said, just like every journalist, sensationalist, and other blogger out there, it’s entirely possible for me to misunderstand something.
So, while I did my absolute best to bring you legit information and bust some coronavirus myths, do your due diligence and always look for backup sources. I believe nothing until I’ve read it on three legitimate news sources.
If you are a doctor, epidemiologist, statistician or other professional and you notice an error in my interpretation of the data, please let me know and I will correct it immediately. I promise, I can accept and admit when I’m mistaken.
Bottom line, though, the coronvirus isn’t really panic-worthy at this point, so don’t let click bait headlines freak you out. 😀