Coronavirus, the medical bureaucracy and the media: Why you won't die from any of them
The coronavirus is getting a great deal of wall-to-wall, 24/7 coverage on media around the world.
It has panicked the stock market into yet another thousand-point plunge on Thursday, it is creating a shortage of “precautionary supplies” like masks and hand sanitizer across the globe, and has governments banning travel, canceling public meetings and medical organizations such as the CDC and WHO making dire predictions.
We all know that.
You wouldn’t know it by the panicky headlines and chilling images from China, where the virus has spread like manure in Iowa, but corona is a highly unlikely health threat.
This year you are more likely to die in a car crash, a heart attack, a slip in the shower, a fall at home, or from watching the meltdown over President Trump's State of the Union address response (death from boredom) or maybe a Trump tweet.
Meanwhile, the regular old flu, which a lot of us attempt to prevent with a flu shot each year, has already killed 10,000 Americans since the influenza season began in October. The regular seasonal flu is just getting started. By Easter, another 17-25 million will be infected, 51,000 Americans will be dead or dying, and nearly 1 million others will have been hospitalized.
Those 51,000 dead from the flu is the average toll between 2010 to 2019, according to the CDC. No headlines about that. No scary pics. No store runs on face masks and hand sanitizer. No quarantines or closed schools or shuttered restaurants and businesses. No warnings beware handshakes with strangers.
Coronavirus is raging, but not here, or much anywhere else besides where it originated in China beginning last September. The death toll surpassed 600 this week and untold thousands are infected.
What hasn’t been widely reported is that pretty much all of those who come down chills, headaches, runny nose and fever, corona’s symptoms, will fully recover after about two weeks. The death rate, so far, is low, about 2% worldwide, but outside of China it is less than half a percent.
The SARS virus that hit in the U.S. in 2002-03 had a death rate of nearly 10%, but killed fewer than 1,000. That many would not have died had President Obama imposed the kind of travel ban President Trump has implemented on inbound flights from China and other high-infection areas.
With the coronavirus, as with most influenzas, those who’ve perished are mostly frail elderly, or people with serious underlying health problems, like asthma.
In China, the issue causing so many deaths is the nation's substandard healthcare. Expired vaccines, overworked healthcare workers and actual violence against doctors and nurses result in a terrible Chinese healthcare system with an image that is propped up internationally by China's Health Ministry but which cannot stand up to scrutiny from outside healthcare organizations.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is helping with that image, making excuses for China's handling of the outbreak and stepping back from declaring a public health emergency in China until the disease began showing up internationally.
All this is not to suggest you should be careless and head to work or school sneezing and sniffling and passing whatever bug you have to others, instead of calling a doctor or visiting a clinic. But it’s not the Black Death, either, as a friend of mine called it this week after watching network television reports from China.
Coronavirus is this season’s hit health hysteria. It follows a decades-long history of health panics whose names were announced to us by furrow-browed TV anchors and panicky headlines.
That pattern continue on Wednesday with The New York Times headline proclaiming the coronavirus showed “no sign of a slowdown” in China. With a full page of ads printed opposite the story, of course.
The hit parade of health hazards includes swine flu (“H1N1”), severe acute respiratory infection or SARS, zika (transmitted by mosquitoes), MRSA, and a seasonal load of alarmists reports about death-dealing nitrites, cancer-causing power lines and cellphones, lead paint toys from China, aspartame and, my favorite, cancer-causing shampoo.
Decades ago, breathless consumer reporters warned us that fluoridated toothpaste can cause grave harm, even death. More than 30 years later, the chestnut about deadly toothpaste still occasionally shows up on local news stations and in newspapers around the country, and the world.
It’s not hard to understand why these kinds of scare pieces are as common as the common cold: emotion moves product. It’s a business marketing tool.
“Your toothpaste will kill you! Details coming up!” the tease grabs you. Then you stick around, or click around, as anywhere from four to six commercials flash by.
Ads, baby, that’s where it’s at.
A news flash: You aren’t going to die from the coronavirus, probably. Definitely your toothpaste is not out to get you.
But that slippery soap on your shower floor? Watch out.