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Coronavirus

8 fast facts you need to know about the coronavirus

Le nombre de décès dus au nouveau coronavirus en Iran est le deuxième plus élevé après la Chine continentale.
Le nombre de décès dus au nouveau coronavirus en Iran est le deuxième plus élevé après la Chine continentale. REUTERS

In the race to learn all there is to know about the new coronavirus, from halting its spread to understanding its origins, researchers are still struggling to fill in many blanks. Here’s RFI’s breakdown of what we’ve learned so far.

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1. Precise mortality rate still unknown

The new coronavirus spreads significantly faster than its cousins SARS and MERS, two other deadly strains of coronavirus. Going on WHO data released Saturday, the approximate mortality rate is about 3.07 percent (calculated from 2,348 deaths out of 76,392 confirmed cases in China).

This compares with 9.6 percent for SARS and 32.9 percent for Mers. In comparison, the average winter flu has a mortality rate of 1.3 percent.

2. Men more affected than women

Although a similar number of men and women have contracted the virus, more men are dying from it – with scientists attributing this to a stronger immune response in women.

Last week the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published figures showing the death rate among men was 2.8 percent, compared with 1.7 percent for women. The figures concern cases in China, where men also spoke in larger numbers.

Military officers wearing masks outside the Duomo cathedral that was closed because of a coronavirus outbreak in Milan, Italy.
Military officers wearing masks outside the Duomo cathedral that was closed because of a coronavirus outbreak in Milan, Italy. REUTERS/Flavio Lo

The virus has largely spared one vulnerable group   children. Meanwhile some people are worst affected than others, with elderly patients suffering cardiovascular disease at increased risk of death, as well as people with diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, high blood pressure and cancer.

The CDC says the majority of confirmed cases are considered mild, involving symptoms similar to the common cold or mild pneumonia. Fourteen percent of cases have been “severe” involving serious pneumonia and shortness of breath, while 5 percent involved respiratory/organ failure and septic shock.

3. Experts unsure of all the ways the virus can be transmitted

Covid-19 is spread from one person to another via droplets of saliva that are expelled when an infected person breathes out, coughs or sneezes. Contaminated surfaces such as door handles or railings help to continue the spread. Symptoms appear after a long incubation period of between 1 and 14 days, with new evidence suggesting the virus can also be spread asymptomatically.

Specialists estimate that each infected person in turn infects on average two to three other people. Because symptoms are often mild, the virus may go undetected by the thermal screening measures that have been rolled out in many airports.

The WHO says the window of opportunity to stop the coronavirus outbreak is shrinking.

4. No vaccination has been developed

At present doctors can only treat the symptoms, with no vaccine or targeted medication available to fight Covid-19. Although some patients have received anti-virals, their effectiveness has not yet been established.

The WHO has warned it may be 18 months before a vaccine against the coronavirus is publicly available.

Instead, health authorities suggest preventative measures such as regularly washing hands for at least 20 seconds (gel sanitisers must contain at least 60 percent alcohol), coughing or sneezing into one’s elbow, and avoiding public spaces.

5. The virus is not yet a pandemic.

Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in more than 35 countries, with “worrying” outbreaks in Iran, South Korea and Italy, however the WHO says the outbreak has not yet reached the level of pandemic (an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents).

In the central Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus is believed to have originated, the number of cases appears to be stabilising.

Staff wear masks while working in an automobile factory in Shanghai, China.
Staff wear masks while working in an automobile factory in Shanghai, China. REUTERS/Aly Song

6. ‘Patient zero’ in Italy remains a mystery

The worst affected country in Europe has not yet identified “patient zero,” raising alarm about how widely the disease has already spread. Specialists are unclear on why Italy was hit by an outbreak despite taking tough early prevention measures, and becoming the first EU country to ban flights to and from China.

7. Fears of mutation

Animal viruses can mutate or combine with other viruses to create new strains capable of being passed to people. Scientists say the new coronavirus originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via an intermediary animal species.

Being an animal virus, Covid-19 has likely mutated as it jumped from to humans. However, WHO experts who went to China this week said they found no significant change in the DNA of the virus.

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