Coronavirus has now infected more than 45,000 people across the globe, resulting in more than 1,100 deaths. Health authorities are struggling to contain the virus, which has been dubbed COVID-19, with it now spreading to more than two dozen countries – including the UK where there have been nine confirmed cases.
The virus is approaching pandemic proportions, and experts have warned it could be comparable to the influenza outbreaks of the 1900s, which included the Spanish Flu.
The Spanish flu lasted from 1918 to 1920 and infected more than 500 million people across the globe, or 27 percent of the worldwide population when it was just 1.8 billion people.
It is one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, with the death toll reaching up to 100 million.
Now experts have warned the current outbreak of coronavirus could be comparable to the major flu outbreak 100 years ago, a report from Imperial College London warned.
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Professor Neil Ferguson, co-author of the report, said: “Understanding the likely impact of the unfolding pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus on human health will be critical to informing the decisions made by countries in the coming weeks in how best to respond to this new public health threat.
“Our estimates – while subject to much uncertainty due to the limited data currently available – suggest that the impact of the unfolding epidemic may be comparable to the major influenza pandemics of the twentieth century.
“It is therefore vital that countries across the world continue to work together to accelerate the development and testing of effective treatments and vaccines, on the fastest possible timescale.
“Surveillance and data sharing also need to be further enhanced to allow the spectrum of disease severity caused by this virus to be better understood.”
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The study also found that COVID-19 has a fatality rate of around one percent, although this is expected to change.
Professor Azra Ghani, co-author, said: “Assessing the severity of an emerging disease is always challenging.
“This is because we generally detect those that are most ill first and only later get a sense of how many people may have milder disease or carry the infection but not have any symptoms.
“However, by piecing together data from various sources – including from the most severe cases reported from China, from international travellers to Wuhan who return infected, and from testing undertaken on repatriated citizens – and by correcting for delays in reporting, we estimate a fatality ratio for all infections of approximately one percent.
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“It is important to remember that this estimate remains very uncertain.”
A previous study from Chinese health officials found the average age of the patients who contracted coronavirus is 55, and half of the people studied were already were suffering from a pre-existing chronic disease.
Perhaps the most surprising find however is that the virus seems to infect more males than females.
The research points out that 68 percent of people infected by the virus were males, with the researchers struggling to understand why.
However, they do theorise: “The reduced susceptibility of females to viral infections could be attributed to the protection from X chromosome and sex hormones, which play an important role in innate and adaptive immunity.”