COVID-19 World

How Infectious is COVID-19?

Written by Atharva Patwardhan

The Coronavirus is the most concerning crisis we face to our health at the moment. At the time of writing, the number of cases has surpassed 1 million and governments are trying to take swift action into providing medical care and advice for its citizens. China, Italy and Spain are among the worst affected and the countries have shifted into strict lockdowns procedures to prevent further spread of infection and to allow the hospitals and medical professionals to have more control over the situation.

Not all hope has been lost though. Although many people have reportedly died from the virus, there seem to be many who have recovered from it.  As of April 5, 2020, has reported the number of closed cases to be 328,746 – of which the number of recovered people was 260,222 (a large proportion). Some people who live in low-affected areas, have disregarded this and have ventured outside despite the risks the health officials have stated. They claim that they are fit and healthy or that the virus is very unlikely to affect them. Either way, the best option is to stay at home, wash your hands and have as much minimal contact as you possibly can.

Many concerned people during this crisis, are asking questions like “Does wearing a face mask help?” and “What are the symptoms?” to which yield uncertain answers from medical governing bodies and cause some controversy amidst the general public.  Another popular question is “How contagious is the Coronavirus?” An excellent question to which scientists are slowly starting to unravel.

The term used in how contagious infectious diseases are is called the Basic reproduction number or R0 (pronounced “R naught”).

The basic reproduction number in Measles is estimated to be at 12-18. This means that one person is likely to infect 12-18 people, making it one of the most contagious diseases out there. Zika is at 3-6.6 and is considered very contagious and the seasonal flu is at 1.3 while Covid-19 is 2-2.5. In comparison to Zika and Measles, the seasonal flu and Covid-19 don’t appear to be much of a worry and many of symptoms caused by Covid-19 are astoundingly similar to the flu. They both cause a fever, cough, sometimes body aches, fatigue and in a worst-case scenario, can cause pneumonia. Therefore, many assume that the flu and Covid-19 are exactly the same because of the symptoms and as a result, many are treating infected Covid-19 individuals like Flu infected individuals. However, the likelihood of infection in Covid-19 is much greater than the flu.

The seasonal flu has a basic reproduction number of 1.3. This means that each person is likely to infect one or two people. Therefore, the number of people infected is 56 after 10 rounds. With Covid-19 having a basic reproduction number of roughly 2, The number of infected individuals after 10 rounds is 2047.

The incubation period in Covid-19, the point at when you catch the disease and when you first realise you are sick, is at minimum, 5-14 days. Scientists estimate, an individual could be contagious during this period and could potentially pass it on to other people. The average incubation period in the Flu is two days and in general, people become sick quickly and realise this while in Covid-19, people are more likely to spread and infect because they aren’t wary that they have it yet.

Since the Coronavirus is relatively new, no human body has ever come in contact with it until now and so there is a high chance of spreading it on. There is no vaccine developed at the moment, which will completely cure it so everyone on earth, is susceptible to contracting it. 

Additionally, the flu reportedly kills an average of 60,000 people a year in the US with a fatality rate of only 0.1%. The Coronavirus has an average fatality rate of 1-3% among all age groups (x10 greater than the flu). The numbers could be astronomically higher in older individuals or individuals with pre-existing health conditions.

All of this is not adding up to great news, but with eventual time lingering on, we hope that scientists will develop some sort of efficient vaccine. The Coronavirus is relatively contagious at the minute, so take precaution and take notice of what your government is telling you and avoid contact with people. The coronavirus is young at the minute and we don’t want to see it grow and get out of control, so to summarise:

Wash your hands and avoid contact with people other than those in your house.

About the author

Atharva Patwardhan

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