Why Is Everyone so Scared of Coronavirus?

By Edo Paz, MD
Medically reviewed
February 28, 2020
Photo by Claudio Schwarz

The 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. are dwarfed by the 30-40 million cases of the flu in the U.S. since October 2019. So why is everyone so scared?  Well, there are a few reasons.

First off, we are scared of what we don’t understand. When it comes to COVID-19, we simply don’t yet understand basic facts about the disease such as exactly how it spreads, what factors result in severe illness, or what is the best way to diagnose and treat the disease. In addition, early estimates out of China indicated that the mortality rate (also known as the case fatality rate) for coronavirus was around 2%. This is substantially higher than the mortality rate of the flu, which is more like 0.05%-0.1%. 

However, to put these numbers in perspective, 80% of cases of coronavirus are mild, and in fact it is likely that the mortality rate is lower than 2% because many of the more mild cases were not diagnosed in the first place. In addition, the mortality rate for patients younger than 50 years old is closer to 0.2%, and this is in China where the healthcare system is less sophisticated than the U.S. and is currently being stretched to its limit by the current outbreak. So at least right now, people in the U.S. are at very low risk of developing serious illness from coronavirus.

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Edo Paz, MD

Edo Paz is the VP of Medical at K Health. Dr. Paz has two degrees in chemistry from Harvard and an MD from Columbia University. He did his medical training in internal medicine and cardiology at New York-Presbyterian. In addition to his work at K Health, Dr. Paz is a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, a cardiology practice located in New York City.