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  • Will Huang, MD

How likely will I die from coronavirus infection?

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

At this time, we are starting to see community person-to-person transmission of disease in Washington state and Northern California. California residents are making preparations to be quarantined at home for a prolonged period. Despite all the precautions and preparations, from what we know so far about this virus, widespread epidemic appears to be highly likely, and probably just a matter of time.

Assuming that you do unfortunately catch the disease, how likely will you succumb to the disease?

JAMA published a report summarizing data from 72,314 cases of infection from the Chinese CDC, stating 81% of cases were mild, while 5% of cases were critical; ie, with respiratory failure, septic shock, and/or multiple organ dysfunction or failure. The overall case-fatality rate was 2.3%. Presumably, many of the asymptomatic or mild cases were not tested, thus it's quite possible that the rates of critical disease and fatality were actually significantly less.

For those sufficiently sick to present for medical care and be tested positive, fatality for those age of 80 or greater was 14.8%, 70-79 years 8%, with cardiovascular disease 7.3%, with diabetes 7.3%, with chronic respiratory disease 6.3%, and those with even just high blood pressure 6%.

Interestingly, among 1,716 health care personnel (myself included as a lung doctor), even though 14.8% of cases were classified as severe or critical, only 5 deaths were reported, amounting to a fatality of only 0.3%. Although this is still 3x higher than the 0.1% mortality in the United States associated with flu, it's much better than 2.3% for everyone else.

To me, this means that even while there are no good specific treatments available for this virus, medical attention to self or colleagues help to save lives! Supportive therapies such as oxygen and/or mechanical ventilatory support can give your body some additional time to fight the infection and recover.

This infection may appear to be mild at first, and then take off and cause inflammation in your lungs. If you believe you may have caught the infection and are having any trouble breathing at all, don't wait, get yourself medical care as soon as you can!

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