The current epidemic of COVID-19 is a novel strain of the coronavirus family. Past outbreaks of coronaviruses have included SARS during 2002 and 2003, and MERS in 2012. So how does coronavirus compare to past outbreaks?
Each of these viral outbreaks are transferred to humans from many different animal species. The 2009 H1N1 Influenza virus, commonly known as “swine flu” is another example. Because these viruses originate in other species, they spread rapidly due to humans having no prior immunity to them.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently estimate that COVID-19 has a fatality rate of 2 per cent. However, this figure may change as we learn more about the virus.
On 13 May 2003, SARS published a synthesis of revised case fatality rate (CFR) estimates on SARS. This placed the overall CFR at approximately 15 per cent.
Though MERS saw a smaller outbreak, the WHO recorded CFR was 34.4 per cent in the Middle East. Most of these cases were reported in Saudi Arabia, which saw a 37.1 per cent CFR.
The WHO also estimated that the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic had a fatality rate of 0.02 per cent.
COVID-19 can be considered a far less fatal virus than SARS and MERS, provided CFR rates remain consistent or only marginally increase.
Severity of Symptoms
The symptoms of COVID-19 are generally far less severe than those seen in previous outbreaks.
Those with COVID-19 may experience a range of symptoms from mild instances of fever, coughing, sore throat, or fatigue, to shortness of breath or pneumonia.
SARS symptoms include high fever, cough, sore throat, pneumonia, shortness of breath, headache, chills, muscle aches, poor appetite, dizziness, and diarrhoea.
Patients with MERS may experience fever cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.
Symptoms of swine flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or blocked nose, aches, fatigue, watery or red eyes, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.
Range of outbreak
Globally there has been 283,100 cases of COVID-19, with Australia experiencing 1,098 of these.
This is a wider range of outbreak compared to the SARS epidemic and the outbreak of MERS. 8000 cases of SARS were reported from 26 countries in 2003, and only 2500 cases of MERS have been confirmed from 27 countries, as of January 2020.
However, in 2009 the swine flu spread to 214 countries, with an estimated 60.8 million cases in the US alone, and 37,537 confirmed cases in Australia.
Overall, the new coronavirus is presenting to be less severe than other viruses we have seen in the past decade. While there is still more to learn about COVID-19, it is understood that the mild symptoms of the virus have resulted in its rapid spread.
If you suspect you may be infected with COVID-19, it is important to seek medical assistance. To avoid infecting others, it can be helpful to contact a telehealth provider, such as 13 Doctor, to receive at-home health advice.