No, The Coronavirus Isn't Another Flu
you're listening to shortwave from NPR. Madison Here with NPR science reporter paying long. Hey Ping Hey Mattie. How's life working at home for you? Hang Well Gladiolas Mattie good to hear your voice It's it's all right. You know I am Trying to work right next reconstructions and right now you might be able to hear a little bit of that noise in the background. I I do have a little pillow. Fort here to help so from my closet to your pillow for today. We're GONNA talk about an idea that's been in the air a lot lately that the krona virus is basically no worse than the flu. Thirty six thousand deaths a year. People Die Thirty six from the flu. But we've never closed down the country for the flu so you say to yourself. What is this all about? That was the president on Tuesday of this week. And so the estimated death toll last flu season in the US was about thirty. Four thousand people in experts say it can range from around twelve thousand deaths year to sixty one thousand deaths a year. By contrast the Krona virus has killed one thousand one hundred and twenty four people in the US. That's as of Thursday when we're taping this according to a Johns Hopkins Count but there is a problem with comparing the two diseases in this way especially at this point in time. Yeah it's tree. Mattie and one of the reasons is that our healthcare system is set up to deal with the flu every year. But what? It's not set up for is to deal with the current events on top of the flu. And so yeah like on purely rod numbers. More people have died from flu this year. But there is a lot of science and data that we've learned in the past three months and it suggests that the corona virus is not only a more dangerous disease. It's one that could hurt more people if it spreads unchecked. So this episode. We'll talk about that. Science and data how the Krona virus differs from the flu and why it could emphasis on could be even more dangerous to public health. Okay paying like we all do with these current virus updates. We need to be clear that the information in this episode is based on what we know right now as of March twenty six and most of what we're talking about today are estimates based on information. That's still evolving. Yeah so let's start with some symptoms flu versus Corona Virus. So this is one of the things that makes containing this illness so tricky. The most frequent symptoms of corona virus are fever dry cough fatigue and shortness of breath and those show up in both corona virus. The flu and people can also get diarrhea. But that's pretty rare and it's also something that can happened with flu and that's all information from the World Health Organization and of course it's very possible that there are symptoms out there that we haven't identified yet so for example. There's been some talk about people with Corona virus. Losing their sense of taste But that hasn't really been proven. Yeah right and of course. A huge concern is people who can pass this fires onto someone else without even knowing that they have it. Yes so let's talk about that. Let's talk about transmission so basically how flu and Crow virus passed from one person to another so flu and current a virus or both ought to be spread mainly through close contact with other people who have it so you can kiss them or they can coffin you and the droplets that come out of their noses and mouths can get into your nose and your mouth and make you sick. So that's why CD's recommending keeping a physical distance of about six feet away from other people right now right right but there is one big difference. And that's the flu can be transmitted through what we call. Airborne transmission people can offer sneeze in a room and then other people can come in and breathe in like super tiny particles of virus and get sick and obviously that type of transmission can be really hard to protect against exactly and while public health officials have said they don't think that's what's going on with occur virus community so far they are still trying to figure that out. Okay Ping so. Let's talk about how many people one person can in fact figuring that out is part of figuring how contagious diseases. There's some numbers that have been reported on the lot even seeing them in the news. But we're going to put some of that. Sweet sweet shortwave nuance in there for you. Yes shortwave where caveats are very welcome. Always okay so matty. If you look at the data from China it looks like each person. Infected WITH CORONA VIRUS. Seems to give it to two or two and a half other people on average and that is higher than the flu so person with flu only spreads it to about one point. Three other people and again that's on average. Yeah and we have to be really careful with those numbers how many people one person will infect is this average based on an equation and for Corona virus a lot of the factors that go into that equation. Like how long? Somebody's contagious. How much virus it takes to get. People sick are still unknown so that to two point five number is a rough number and it is extremely likely that that number will change for better or for worse right yeah and this one was calculated again looking at populations in China not the US and things like weather. People ride crowded subway to get around or whether cheek kissing is a common greeting. You know things like how people behave. And how many people come in contact with that can change that number. And that's why social distancing is so key right now all that being said today Dr Anthony Voucher one of the top public health officials in this country told Steph curry and NBA Point Guard. Because that's the world we live in now is much more transmissible than the flu in part of that has to do with one of the most important and honestly scary things about the corona virus that people can be contagious before they have symptoms so before they themselves. No they're sick. This also happens with the flu. But it's only for about a day right. That's what we were just mentioning that. He and with Corona virus seems like people can walk around for longer not knowing that they're sick and potentially getting other people sick so we still don't know a lot about this yet but one study looking at a bunch of provinces in China found that about thirteen percent of their cases were likely caused by people spreading the corona virus to others before they started coughing or having a fever or getting achey. Yeah and what's really wild about it and I've only seen this in this one study. Is that some of the people who got infected had symptoms before the person that infected them so it would be like if I was contagious. And I didn't know and I came to work and infected you and you had symptoms before I ever done and if you think about it. Mattie from a public health perspective so hard to deal with it's part of the reason why some people are really advocating for testing a lot of people who may have been exposed to corona. And not just the symptomatic ones. So let's talk about when you do get sick enough to go to the hospital. There's some evidence based on data from China that patients wind up in the hospital with Corona Virus. Than when it comes to the flu right it looks like about twenty percent of patients with cove in nineteen. Get seriously ill enough to be sent to the hospital. And that's about ten times the rate for flu. Here's Parker Hudson and epidemiologist at University of Texas at Austin Del Medical School where it's particularly concerning are the number of people who are progressing to need hospital level care and then eventually critical care and who are dying especially the extremes of age and we also have some data from China from Wuhan about how long people with the krona virus need to stay in the hospital. Once they wind up there. Yeah so based on information from Han in January the average hospital stay is eleven days for Corona Virus. And that's compared with five or six days for an average flu case. And when you have a patient using a hospital bed for that length of time. That's the bad that can't go to a flu. Patient or someone with a heart condition or someone in a car accident suggest because this is a new disease for our healthcare system. It doesn't mean that all the other reasons people end up in the hospital usually just magically go. Yeah and not only that based on the stories we've been hearing from Er Doctors Hospital. Nurses caring for Corona virus. Species takes a lot of work yet. It's true so an expert at the world. Health Organization says that taking care of intensive really unwell corona virus patients. It can take two to three medical staff at one time all in protective gear for hours and hours and that is super social work. And don't even get me started on the amount of disposable gloves masks and gowns that takes because we've all been hearing about that shortage and it's a whole separate issue yeah paying. I'm not going to get you started on that because I know how you feel about it. Okay so we mentioned at the beginning of the episode that about thirty four thousand people died last flu season in the US. So let's talk about how that compares to Corona Virus. So stay with me here if you think about it. In terms of percentages the flu kills one out of every thousand people who get sick from it so remember that number one thousand. That's zero point. One percent got so for Corona virus. Anthony fout she he said. The current virus is estimated to kill at least ten people for every thousand infected probably brings the mortality rate down to somewhere around one percent which means it is ten times more lethal than the seasonal flu. I think that's something that people can get their arms around and understand now again a caveat we are obviously still looking at new data every day as the testing ramps up and we don't know a lot about people who might have mild symptoms or no at all because we really haven't tested a lot of them right so that death rate might not be that high. It might not be as high as it looks now. Yeah Yeah but still. The death rate does seem to be higher than the flu by some significant measure and that gets the need to contain it. Yeah so the flu on pure raw numbers may kill more people. But that's because a lot more people get the flu to begin with and so the message here is that if we do not contain the corona virus if it's allowed to spread the way that the flu does one barrel just talked with told me that the number of severe cases and dads will be worse than the flu hands down. Yeah okay so knowing all that. Let's talk about vaccines? Obviously we have those for the flu but not for Corona virus yet. Yeah and probably a lot of people have heard the spy now. But it's just GonNa take some time so the time line right now is at least a year to a year and a half to develop a vaccine that we know is effective and safe but ping there is a little bright out here ruling it on me so there are things about this virus. That could indicate that. It's a good candidate for vaccine. Perhaps a vaccine. That's even more productive than our current flu vaccine. Yes that is true and if we get a good vaccine for the slaying one that really keeps it from spreading between people. That could really change a lot of what we've talked about today. So let's wrap up where we started the idea that the flu is something we deal with every year. So what's the big fuss about dealing with corona virus in the same way because that line of thinking is essentially saying okay? Let's just let the corona virus become another flu. Yes it's true. That is a line of thinking. That's out there and that would actually be very bad so the flu is a huge problem every year because it's constantly circulating in our populations. That's what we really don't want for. Corona virus if we can still help it because everything that we know so far about the chronic virus shows that even if it doesn't spread to as many people as flu has it seems to be more deadly and people can be carriers and they can spend it for days before they have symptoms and it could also cause a major stress to our healthcare system and put lots of doctors and nurses and danger so those are all reasons to take it very seriously right now. Okay I appreciate you. I appreciate you and your pillow. Fort Thank you I appreciate you to Mattie. We've got a link in the episode notes to Ping Reporting on this topic that you can share with others in addition to sharing this podcast. Of course I mattie Safai. We're back next. Week with more shortwave from NPR.