No need for panic, but precautions are still appropriate

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Nebraska reported its fifth confirmed case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and many more are sure to follow.

The virus is certainly something to be taken seriously.

As one virologist noted, the virus is sufficiently different, contagious and its full effects so unknown, that people should do whatever they can to avoid it.

While younger people may have it with few symptoms, they may pass it on to older people who are dying at a rate much higher than the ordinary flu.

While we have vaccines for regular seasonal influenza, none yet exists for COVID-19.

Still, there are reasons not to panic.

-- We know what it is. It was identified on New Year’s Eve in China and the genetic code was available 10 days later. It is thought to be related to corona virus in bats, and apparently doesn’t mutate as quickly as other viruses.

-- Detection has been possible since Jan. 13.

-- The number of new cases each day in China is tapering off.

-- 80% of the cases are mild, 14% are severe and 5% can be critical or fatal. Since many cases have mild or no symptoms, the rate of serious cases may be much lower.

-- It can be fatal, but most people are healed -- there are 13 times more cured cases than deaths, and that rate is increasing.

-- Cases in children are so mild that many go undetected, and the mortality rate of people under 40 is only about 0.2%.

-- The virus is relatively easy to control, by wiping with a solution of ethanol (62-71% alcohol), hydrogen peroxide (0.5% hydrogen peroxide) or sodium hypochlorite (0.1% bleach), in just one minute.

This is also where frequent handwashing with soap and water -- the most effective way to avoid contagion -- comes in.

-- The best scientists in the world are working on it, and there are already vaccine prototypes being tested.

Virus infections of any type are nothing to take lightly. Visit local cemeteries and you’ll note many headstones that may be the result of the 1918 flu pandemic that caused more than 25 million deaths in less that 25 weeks.

Such an outcome is unlikely today, but handwashing and other common-sense precautions are certainly in order.

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