Coronavirus cases boomed this week as China altered its method for counting, but thus far the death rate from the disease remains far below the SARS epidemic that rattled the global health system almost two decades ago.
The death toll from the new coronavirus that surfaced in China late last yearrose to 1,370 on Thursday. All but three of the deaths have been in mainland China.
The World Health Organization has estimated the mortality rate for the virus, Covid-19, at about 2%. That compares with a 10% death rate for SARS, which killed 774 people during an outbreak in China in 2002-03.
“We are not seeing a significant shift in the pattern of mortality or severity,” Mike Ryan, who leads WHO health emergency programs, said of the coronavirus. He added that the increase in cases “does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak.”
Ryan said the coronavirus remains most problematic for older people and for men.
China previously only counted cases confirmed when a person tested positive for the virus. Chest imaging and other medical diagnoses are now included, Ryan said.
“This allows people to get clinical care more quickly and allows public health responses to be initiated, Ryan said.
Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said the coronavirus appears to be “quite transmissible,” making it hard to contain. The change in criteria may falsely elevate the actual number of cases, Glatter warned.
“The lack of reliable information combined with a highly transmissible virus is problematic, to say the very least,” Glatter said.
Japan confirms first death
Japan on Thursday confirmed its first death from the new coronavirus.
One death previously was reported in the Philippines, another in Hong Kong.
Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the woman was in her 80s and lived in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo. Japan has confirmed about 250 cases of the virus, including a cruise ship where 44 more cases were confirmed Thursday. That raises the total on the Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Yokohama for a week, to 218.
The government has, however, decided to allow some elderly passengers suffering from chronic illnesses to leave the ship if they test negative for the virus.
Second American evacuee has virus
A second case of coronavirus was confirmed in the U.S. among evacuees from China, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced. The person was aboard a flight from the city of Wuhan that arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Southern California last week, the CDC said. The patient was in isolation at a San Diego hospital, UC San Diego Health confirmed.
There have been 14 U.S. cases of coronavirus in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and Wisconsin. One U.S. citizen diagnosed with the coronavirus has died in Wuhan.
There are 420 people who have been tested in 41 states. Test results came back negative for 347, and the remaining 60 are pending, according to the CDC.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY; The Associated Press