More than 167,400 people worldwide have contracted the virus—and that number continues to grow.
The Coronaviruses Owe Their Name To The The Crown Like Projections, Visible Under Microscope, That Encircle The Capsid. The Coronaviruses Are Responsible For Respiratory Ailments And Gastro Enteritis. The Virus Responsible For Sars Belongs To This Family. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)
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After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Americans should begin preparing for a coronavirus outbreak in the US, panic around the illness escalated—and it's not entirely unwarranted. Since December 2019, when the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was first discovered in Wuhan, China, it has infected more than 167,400 people worldwide, and caused 6,329 deaths, most of which have been in China.

A lot of that panic has to do with all of the unknown answers to questions the general public has about COVID-19—including the illness' survival rate, or how many people recover from the virus, versus how many people die from it. And unfortunately, there's still no clear-cut answer to that question, according to Jeremy Brown, M.D., director of the Office of Emergency Care Research at the National Institutes of Health and author of Influenza: The Hundred-Year Hunt to Cure the Deadliest Disease in History.

There's not enough information that's readily available yet to determine the true survival rate of COVID-19, says Dr. Brown, "but given the tens of thousands of people infected with the virus, the survival rate will be very, very high," he adds.

Manisha Juthani, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist, agrees. “It can be scary to watch the news and see the death toll rise from the coronavirus overseas. But we now know that most cases of coronavirus in China have been mild and less than 3% of patients have died,” she points out.

As for the data we do have, that information also shows a low fatality rate and high survival rate for COVID-19. In a new viewpoint article published February 24 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), authors looked at the case records of 72,314 patients, 44,672 of which were confirmed as having COVID-19. Of those confirmed cases, 36,160 cases, or 81%, showed only mild symptoms, while 14% were severe and 5% critical. The overall case-fatality rate, or coronavirus cases that ended in death, was only 2.3%—or 1,023 deaths out of 44, 672 confirmed cases.

Also worth noting, according Dr. Juthani: “[Coronavirus] appears to be more deadly for adults, especially those with other medical conditions"—no deaths have been reported in children, nor were any reported in those who had a mild or severe case of the illness. Dr. Brown also points out that those with chronic heart or lung problems and those who are immunocompromised are also at a higher risk of death.

As far as survival rates among different populations outside of China, there's still a lot left to learn, including region-by-region survival rates. "As more data are reported from different regions of the world on their cases of COVID-19, we will learn if there are any regional differences in the disease," says Dr. Juthani.

At this point, the best way to keep survival rates high–and to prepare and protect yourself against coronavirus—is to continue taking preventive measures recommended by the CDC, which include avoiding close contact with people who are sick; not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; staying home when you are sick; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces; and washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom and before eating.

Dr. Juthani also recommends getting tested ASAP if you think there's a chance you could have contracted COVID-19—something she hopes will become more easily accessible for everyone. "I think an important point that needs to get out there is that testing for the novel coronavirus has to become more easily accessible,” she says. “Companies that make tests that check for multiple respiratory viruses at once now need to include this one.”