Since the first known cases of COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, China in December 2019, there have been over 7 million cases of the highly infectious virus worldwide and over 404,000 deaths as of publication of the story you’re reading. While researchers are scrambling to develop an effective vaccine, the numbers continue to rise at a startling pace. A new paper claims that if the pandemic continues to worsen, the impact could be as devastating as the flu pandemic of 1918—which killed a whopping 50-100 million globally.
“A Strong Suppression Effort Must Continue”
According to the paper, titled “Active case finding with case management: the key to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic,” published in the medical journal The Lancet, China has managed to contain COVID-related severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV-2) and have nearly put a halt to indigenous transmission. However, “a strong suppression effort must continue to prevent re-establishment of community transmission from importation-related cases.”
Researchers worry that China is at a risk of facing a second wave of the coronavirus, due to the fact that the majority of the population of the country remains susceptible to the virus, with no immunity.
“There is no known ongoing community transmission, but the risk of local transmission introduced by internationally imported cases remains a major concern. Almost the entire population of China remains susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and, therefore, is at risk of a Covid-19 epidemic,” they say.
According to the authors, non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) along with case finding, isolation, and contact tracing will be needed to keep the numbers down.
“Experience with influenza A (commonly known as the flu) is that NPIs (without case finding, isolation, and contact tracing) can reduce spread by up to 50%, which is potentially insufficient to alleviate critical medical needs caused by the Covid-19 epidemic,” they write. “With ongoing virus transmission, the Covid-19 pandemic might continue indefinitely until relieved by an effective vaccine response.”
If this occurs, we could be looking at a global death toll similar to what we experienced in 1918, judging by case-fatality ratios (CFR). According to their research, the CFR of seasonal influenza is approximately 0·1 percent —insignificant compared to the CFR of COVID-19, which was 5·9 percent in Hubei province, China, and 0·98 percent in all other regions of China.
Containment is Key
“High caseloads stress medical systems and can lead to more deaths if health-care systems become overwhelmed. Should the Covid-19 pandemic worsen, its effect might approach that of the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, which had a CFR of more than 2% and caused 50–100 million deaths worldwide,” researchers claim.
This makes containment methods key. “We believe that case finding and management, with identification and quarantine of close contacts, are vitally important containment measures and are essential in China’s pathway forward,” they write.
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