Webster’s dictionary defines the word Panic as: “a sudden overpowering fright; terror, consternation, dismay, alarm, dread, fear.” By that definition, the world is certainly in a panic. Schools are being closed, professional sports leagues are suspended indefinitely, cruises are cancelled, airplane flights are cancelled, even the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (better known as March Madness) has been cancelled. This really is March Madness.
My family has been greatly impacted by influenza pandemics in the past. My maternal grandmother, Mary Louise Brownlee Boyce, died in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that took the lives of an estimated 50 million people world-wide. My mother was a little girl of five with a sister who was only three. Their lives would never be the same. That year the world was justified in being in a panic.
2009 H1N1 Influenza Virus Pandemic
In 2009, the H1N1 influenza virus emerged and a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). In the year from 4/12/09 to 4/10/10, the CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases in the U.S. alone and 12,469 deaths attributed to the virus. The CDC also estimated between 151,700 and 575,400 deaths occurred world-wide. Globally, 80% of the deaths occurred in people under the age of 65 years. This contrasts greatly with the number of typical seasonal influenza deaths which are 70-90% in people over the age of 65 years. The mortality impact on the world’s population was 0.001 – 0.007%.
The CDC website says initial testing for the virus was done only at the CDC. On May 1, 2009, the CDC shipped more than 1,000 test kits to 120 domestic and 250 international laboratories in 140 countries. But there was no panic for testing kits as we’re seeing today even though we have millions more kits now and more are coming.
2017 Influenza Virus Season
In 2017, 959,000 Americans were hospitalized with the flu and 79,400 died. That’s a death rate of 8% of those hospitalized. But there was no panic in this or any other country. There were no school closings, sporting competition cancellations, or airline suspensions.
How important is testing?
The media is currently focused on the number of testing kits available. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the NIAID, has described the current preparation of the system as “failing” because there is a relative shortage of testing kits. The media jumped on this description and wants everyone to believe our government is “failing” in its response to the virus.
This is very misleading. Testing is normally ordered by your doctor in response to signs and symptoms consistent with the virus. Testing is not done just because patients demand it. This is just as true for Xrays, MRIs, and lab work. All of these tests require a doctor’s prescription. But under the present panic circumstances, patients are demanding testing out of an abundance of fear and politicians with political motivations are demanding we provide them. Already we have “drive-thru” testing centers where you don’t even have to get out of your car. You just drive in, get a swap taken from your mouth, and the test is sent off. While this may ameliorate the panic for some, it is unlikely to impact virus treatment.
The medical reality is that testing is unnecessary for treatment. Most influenza patients are never tested but they receive appropriate medical treatment, usually in their home, and they recover without complications. Those who are hospitalized receive supportive care including IV fluids, respiratory therapy, anti-viral drugs and antibiotics if there is evidence of pneumonia. All of these treatments can be done without testing. This is just as true for the corona virus as the flu. The test results mostly help epidemiologists and infectious disease experts, like Dr. Fauci, document and analyze widespread viral pandemics for the benefit of the population at large; not for the benefit of individuals. If you have symptoms consistent with any virus, avoid spreading it to others. Stay at home and call your doctor.
2020 Corona Virus Update
That brings us to our current virus pandemic. People are in a panic mostly because of their fear of the unknown. Despite annual losses of tens of thousands of Americans from influenza, no one panics because influenza is a known virus. Despite years of experience with the mortality of the flu; perhaps because of this experience, people just don’t take the flu seriously. Despite available vaccines that are mostly effective, only 60% of the vulnerable population over the age of 60 gets a flu shot. Only 37% of those under age 60 believe it’s worth the trouble.
The media is filled with facts about the corona virus, mostly inaccurate, and often intentionally frightening. Here are some real facts about the virus taken from the CDC and from the website worldometers.info as of 3/15/20. Follow this website for updates. Another website with similar data is the Center for Systems Science & Engineering (CSSE) systems.jhu.edu which is based at Johns Hopkins University.
Total Corona Virus Cases World-Wide:
The following graphic gives a breakdown of the number of cases by country for those countries most affected by the virus. The current U.S. statistics are:
- Total cases – 3,083
- New cases – 372
- Total deaths – 60
- New deaths – 3
- Total cases recovered – 56
- Active cases –2,967
- Serious cases – 10
- Total cases/1 million population – 9.3
The Corona Virus is certainly a serious world-wide health concern. But there is no need for panic. We have weathered such storms before and the risk is still quite low for anyone to contract the disease. Those who are older and have chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, or obesity are at greatest risk and should take stringent precautions. These include frequent hand washing, avoidance of crowds, avoidance of unnecessary travel, and getting a flu shot. These are common sense measures we should take every flu season, not just when a new virus like Corona Virus rears its head.