What are Coronaviruses and How Deadly is COVID-19?

Well, the world is currently in a global pandemic. The streets and stores are barren of toilet paper, countries are on lockdown, and pretty much everything has been canceled. All of this for a measely little virus that’s no more deadly than the flu, right? Wrong.

COVID-19 is no joke, and in order to understand how we should be approaching the current media pandemic, we need to understand just what it is, how it works, and how dangerous it can be.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness. Things like the common cold are caused by a type of coronavirus and even things as dangerous as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) are caused by coronaviruses.

These viruses have a varying level of danger in how they affect but are related in how they function and spread.

These viruses are known as zoonotic, according to the CDC, which means that they can be carried and transmitted between animals and people. For example, SARS, a type of coronavirus, was transmitted from civet cats to humans when the outbreak first began in 2002 in China. There are also coronaviruses that are currently infecting animals that haven’t yet crossed over to humans.

Coronaviruses themselves are made up of one strip of RNA covered in spiked proteins. Under close examination, these spikes look like crowns, which is why the viruses have the name corona, meaning crown in latin. These spike proteins allow the virus to attach to host cells, which then allow the virus to inject it’s RNA into the nucleas of the host cell. This causes the host cell to start making more virus.

Stepping back for a moment, coronaviruses are defined as common viruses that infect humans that lead to upper respiratory infections. They spread through coughing or sneezing, through the air, close personal contact, touching contaminated surfaces, and through fecal matter. Most coronaviruses cause runny noses, sore throats, general unwellness, cough and fever.

Stepping back a little bit further, viruses are biological agents that reproduce inside of cells of hosts. Viruses attach themselves to cells and ultimately takes control of the cells function. This is differernt to bacteria that have their own cell structure and don’t hijack the hosts cells.

Most viruses ultimately cause diseases, unlike bacteria. Diseases like AIDS, herpes, or chickenpox are common virus-caused diseases.

So, now that we’ve defined what a coronavirus is, what a virus is, and understand their basic function, we can begin to understand how COVID-19 is spreading.

How is COVID-19 Spreading?

Coronaviruses in general and COVID-19 specifically spread through the various forms of contact we mentioned before. Through close person to person contact, through contaminated surfaces, and even though people who aren’t showing symptoms yet. Part of what makes COVID-19 so scary is the fact that it can take up to 14 days for people to show symptoms. So, 14 days that people can be spreading the virus before they even figure out that they might have it.

COVID-19 has shown that it spreads rapidly and very easily, thus why so much of the world has gone into lockdown and quarantine to halt the spread. Most people that get the virus develop a dry cough with a fever, and a possible sore throat or headache.

There’s another thing we need to mention here. On the surface, COVID-19 may just seem like another form of the common cold, but it’s much more dangerous. To understand how much and how much gravity and precaution we should take, we need to understand the death rates of the virus.

How Deadly is COVID-19?

Looking at the data, we can easily compare the death rates of COVID-19 to the common flu. Breaking down the data by age group, we can see:

Ages 0-19 have a death rate of .004% with the flu whereas COVID-19 has seen a death rate of .1% for the same age group. While percentage while this still isn’t a lot, it’s important to realize that this number is roughly 14-25 times higher than the seasonal flu.

However, the 0-19 age group is the least at risk. Looking into people ages 20 to 49, the seasonal flu has a death rate of .02% whereas COVID-19 has a death rate of .3%. This is 6 to 16 times higher than the seasonal flu. Quantifying this number, it means that 3 in every 1000 20 to 49-year-olds infected with COVID-19 will die.

Moving along to the next age bracket, 50-60, the death rates get worse. The seasonal flu has a death rate of .06% for this age group, whereas COVID-19 has a death rate of 1.3%. That equates to a little over every 1 in 100 people ages 50-60 will die with COVID-19, compared to just barely 1 in every 1000 with the seasonal flu.

Finally, looking at the oldest age bracket, ages 60+, the outlook seems dark. The seasonal flu has a death rate of .8% in these age brackets whereas COVID-19 has a death rate of 6%. That means almost 1 in every 100 people over the age of 60-65 infected with the seasonal flu will die, compared to 6 out of every 100 with COVID-19. 4 to 7 times as risky for this age group.

Overall, COVID-19 has an averaged death rate of anywhere from 2.3% to 3.4%, and this number is constantly changing as more data comes in.

So, COVID-19 is more deadly than the common flu and without preventative measures, it will reach as many cases as we see with the common flu, if not many more, but the death rate will be higher.

There are a few metrics that do indicate that COVID-19 may not be as bad as it’s being made out to be though.

It might not be as bad as it’s being made out to be

Scientists estimate that those infected COVID-19 will roughly infect 2 to 3.11 other people on average, according to data gathered by VOX.¬†¬†This is more than the seasonal flu’s numbers of 1.3 people, but much less than something like Measles that is 11-18 people or Zika, which was 3-6.6.

Chinese death rates have also declined as the virus has been addressed, which is a good sign. However, this isn’t an indication that the virus is getting weaker, just that China’s quarantine measures and medical system have raised to the necessary bar to fight the pandemic. OR, China is underreporting deaths and cases to make themselves look better, but we don’t know that without severe speculation.

If we trust this decline in death rate, it’s a strong argument that the steps the rest of the world is taking to quarantine and address the spread of the disease are in proper step. It’s highly likely that people will look back on the efforts taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus as extreme because not many people got the virus, which is still yet to be seen. It’s important to remember though, that after all these cancellations and preventative steps have been taken, if we don’t see massive infection, it means they were the right steps.

We know how infectious COVID-19 is. Under normal circumstances, if no preventative action was taken, it’s estimated that over half of the world’s population would get it. Knowing that, if we see anything less than that spread, we know that preventative measures were effective.

So, stop making fun of the event cancellations and quarantines, they’re the right steps to take to prevent the spread of a massively contagious virus. However, also understand that most people will be okay and have mild symptoms with COVID-19. While you might be a fully healthy 25-year old who could fight off the disease, remember that the quarantine isn’t necessarily for you. It’s for your 70-year-old neighbor who isn’t strong enough to fight it off. COVID-19 isn’t the end of the world, but it is a serious threat to a significant portion of the world’s population. Listen to governing bodies, follow quarantine measures, and help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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