You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus

You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus

Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain.

The Atlantic, 2020
References: Bai et al. (2020)

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You’re washing your hands, practicing social distancing and coughing into your arm like a good citizen, but will this stop the spread of COVID-19? Your efforts may slow the spread, which offers social benefits, but the ship probably already sailed when it comes to actually stopping the virus. So will the world be able to pull it together and limit impending global disaster? James Hamblin, MD explains the barriers to a happy COVID-19 resolution in this article from The Atlantic, and describes what would be necessary for effective global responses to future pandemics.


Milder symptoms make for deadlier viruses.

H5N1 [avian flu virus that infected humans] has a high (roughly 60%) mortality rate, yet only 455 people have died of H5N1 since 2003. Milder strains of the flu have a 0.1% mortality rate, yet they kill hundreds of thousands each year. When a majority of people experience only mild symptoms, an illness is difficult to contain. When symptoms are severe, sudden and lead to death, people spring into action, limiting spread. H5N1 is a good example. The first death was in May 1997. By August, the Chinese government killed 1.5 million chickens, and people who caught the virus were quarantined or died so quickly they couldn’t pass it on.

The novel coronavirus, which has a fatality rate of around 2%, is dangerous precisely because it’s so mild in most cases. People can easily pass it on when they don’t know they have it.

[Editors Note: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious viral respiratory disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), also known as “novel coronavirus.” Reports in December 2019, from Wuhan, China, first cited the disease...

About the Author

Dr. James Hamblin lectures at the Yale School of Public Health. He’s a regular contributor to The Atlantic, and author of Clean, which will be released in July 2020.

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