First person account of catching COVID-19 by experienced virologist will erase any notion that this is just another flu

My wife and I have been extremely cautious in our social distancing. We’re both old enough to be at risk but her existing conditions and the medications she takes for them have led me to regard this virus as something she simply must not get. Even so, reading this makes me want to review our precautions and tighten them up even more. It makes me wonder how we will know when we can ever return to normal, if that is even an option. That is the question I would most appreciate feedback on from those in the know on these forums.

Virologist Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, fell ill with COVID-19 in mid-March. He spent a week in a hospital and has been recovering at his home in London since. Climbing a flight of stairs still leaves him breathless.

After fighting viruses all over the world for more than 40 years, I have become an expert in infections. I’m glad I had corona and not Ebola, although I read a scientific study yesterday that concluded you have a 30% chance of dying if you end up in a British hospital with COVID-19. That’s about the same overall mortality rate as for Ebola in 2014 in West Africa.

Many people think COVID-19 kills 1% of patients, and the rest get away with some flulike symptoms. But the story gets more complicated. Many people will be left with chronic kidney and heart problems. Even their neural system is disrupted. There will be hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, possibly more, who will need treatments such as renal dialysis for the rest of their lives. The more we learn about the coronavirus, the more questions arise. We are learning while we are sailing. That’s why I get so annoyed by the many commentators on the sidelines who, without much insight, criticize the scientists and policymakers trying hard to get the epidemic under control. That’s very unfair.

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Yikes having finished reading the article I already have one answer:

The Commission is strongly committed to supporting the development of a vaccine. Let’s be clear: Without a coronavirus vaccine, we will never be able to live normally again. The only real exit strategy from this crisis is a vaccine that can be rolled out worldwide. That means producing billions of doses of it, which, in itself, is a huge challenge in terms of manufacturing logistics. And despite the efforts, it is still not even certain that developing a COVID-19 vaccine is possible.

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Thanks for sharing that, Mark. Reading 1st person accounts helps us to adjust our attitudes as may be necessary.

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I have two friends who are in their early forties, fit and healthy with no pre-existing conditions and are on week 9 or 10 with COVID-19 and still suffering extreme fatigue, breathlessness, spiking fever, etc. Neither was hospitalized, but both said there were points they wondered if they were going to die. Another friend in his late thirties, no pre-exisiting conditions, just got released after 10 days in the hospital. And the hospital visit was after he was sick for two weeks. I just keep thinking that there is no way our prior system of sick leave can handle large numbers of people needing to take 2 months+ off work to recover. When I was teaching public school, I think I had five sick days a year. My husband used to have two weeks vacation and five sick/personal days a year. There is all this focus on mortality and hospitalization rates, and rightly so, but “normal life” is also going to have to take into account the very large percentage of people who aren’t hospitalized and don’t die, but can’t work for weeks on end because they are sick and contagious.

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That’s right. In my area the number of 20/30-somethings who hang out in close proximity in the nearby park is alarming. Very few people actually wear a mask or gloves when outside, though of course they do when entering a store where they are required. I have to think they don’t realize just how debilitating this can be even for those who survive it.

While economically we do need to reopen I sure would like to believe policy makers would consider what you’ve observed with your friends and what this researcher has written from first hand experience. It is an exceptional situation which should call for drawing together to deal with it, not just shaming people into going back to work willynilly while protecting companies from lawsuits from any damages their workers (or customers) may incur.

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Good point. The flu hits about 35 million people a year in the US. COVID is more contagious, but let’s assume social distancing and masks hold the number of infections to 15 million. That’s 10x higher as we are now. Multiply the 90,000 current deaths by 10 and almost a million people are likely to die. On top of that, 10 million or so will be unable to work for months.

That’s my best-case scenario.

What does “just another flu” even mean? Imagine we have a flu season, 5 years from now. Mr X tells people… “It’s just another flu”. Then, Mr X happens to catch it and die from the complication. What would this hypotethical example prove?

That people should treat this flu as extremely dangerous and point to an example of Mr. X dying from it?

I have mixed feelings about COVID19. I agree that it’s a dangerous disease, particularly because it can overwhelm the hospitals with the numbers of sick people, many of whom will require a ventilator. However, I am not so sure that it’s a particularly deadly disease, at least for the US as of now.

Judging by the mortality from all causes numbers on the CDC website,
https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/index.htm

the total deaths in the US so far are at 914,014 deaths. This is a lot, but that number is actually less that would be expected even without COVID19.

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db328.htm

For instance, according to the CDC data, in 2017, there were just over 2.8 Million deaths in the US for 2017, which was actually 60,000 deaths more than deaths in 2016 (according to the CDC).

So, assuming the expected deaths for 2020 would remain at 2.8 mil, which averages out to 53.8 thousand people dying every week. We are at week 21 now. So, we would expect to have approx (53.8Thousands times 20) = 1,076,000 deaths (and I’ve rounded down).

We are at around 100,000+ less deaths so far vs what should have been expected, according to the CDC statistics and assuming the law of averages is correct in my comparison.

But the article brought out that this virus causes damage to organs which can result in a death whose reason may only cite a failed organ. It also mentioned that the damage to kidneys can require many to require regular dialysis. As I understand it, the flu rarely causes these kinds of organ damage. I will continue to regard it as important to avoid until there is a vaccine available.

I work with both a virologist and an infectious disease doc, so I may be able to shed a little bit of light on the subject. However, don’t mistake me for an expert.

When can we return to normal? I can only see two scenarios: herd immunity and vaccination. If enough people are infected and gain effective immunity against the virus then it will have a tough time spreading through the population but will still be a risk. Better yet, a vaccine will stop the virus in its tracks.

I don’t see either of these happening until after the upcoming winter, so prepare. I’m hoping that the spread of the virus will slow down in the summer, but I don’t think anyone really knows if this will happen. I am completely flummoxed when it comes to a balance between the real health risks of the virus and the vitality of the economy. As usual, the real world is a messy place.

Most of all, I hope you and your wife stay safe and healthy!!

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Mortality from all causes isn’t a good comparison. But even if it were, COVID-19 has been the leading cause of death in NYC and Los Angeles county at various times during the course of the disease so far. (I’m not going to bother to look up references. Easily Googled.) Nationwide, I think the lockdown restrictions throw too many variables into the equation to draw any conclusions. Less traffic, less auto fatalities. Just one example. I have seen statistics on “excess deaths” this year, but I can’t remember if they were local or national figures.

If we want to make a comparison to flu in terms of deadliness, the worst recent flu season was 2017-18 with 45 million infections and 62,000 flu-related deaths according to CDC estimates. (2019-20 may have been just as bad, but numbers are preliminary.) The U.S. just passed 1.5 million confirmed infections and 90,000 COVID-related deaths. No comparison in terms of deadliness.

Here’s a hypothetical. COVID-19 is far more contagious than flu, but let’s assume that social distancing and everyone wearing masks holds the number of confirmed infections down to 15 million. That’s 10 times where we are now. Multiply the number of current deaths by 10, and almost a million people die.

That’s my best case. Barring a miraculously quick vaccine, 15 million infections is chump change for this virus.

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Thank you very much for your perspective and I agree with your prognosis. I think it will be an odd year ahead. Fortunately we enjoy each other’s company but with no other social outlet it does put some strain on a relationship. Still I’m grateful for the company and feel for people living on their own at this time.

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