The downside of good news

The downside of good news

The good news is that coronavirus probably won't kill you. Chinese numbers are tough to believe but an increasing number of cases outside the country are preventing more mild symptoms, especially in healthy people.

In the big picture, that's great news. An doomsday scenario would have been a global 10-15% mortality rate like SARS or 25% like MERS. Even in a total pandemic where medical care is hard-to-get, the numbers are unlikely to climb that high.

But there's a dark side to the good news. With SARS, for instance, when patients became symptomatic and transmissible, they quickly developed high fevers above 38.0C along with headaches and body aches. That helped stop the spread and identify cases.

That's the kind of thing where most people will call in sick to work, or stay home from school. Indeed, many people would be laid out and seek medical attention.

With the novel coronavirus, there is an increasing amount of evidence showing that many cases are mild, at least at the outset. Even among people who later died, many were in relatively good shape until the final stages. Case files frequently described an 'intermittent fever and coughing'.

Here's the case brief of an early victim, who died at a relatively young age:

Coronavirus case file

How many people were infected in those 15 days?

The problem is that virtually all people would mistake the early symptoms for a cold or flu. Many would continue to go to work, ride the subway, meet with friends and that would increase the opportunities for transmission.

Statistically, that's probably already happening now. Based on travel patterns, we should be seeing more cases in Indonesia and the Philippines among other places. Maybe that's just luck, but maybe the people there just think they have the flu?

If so, they're slowly seeding the virus and putting it on the path to a global pandemic.