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Don't Panic: Coronavirus Death Rate "Same As The Flu"

BANGKOK, Thailand -- International coronavirus panic is being hyped by social media and news reports, but the actual death rate is the same as the flu and less people will die as the virus mutates, according to David Mabey, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"I think the risk of acquiring it is pretty low," Mr. Mabey said in an interview.

"I know there have been cases reported in Thailand, but Thailand is a big country and there are not many cases. I think if I were in Wuhan, I probably would be wearing a mask. But as it is, I think the risk of getting infected is low.

"I think the infection is not particularly virulent, as far as we have learned, about 1% mortality which is the same as flu. And I don't go around wearing a mask all the time because I might get flu."

Mr. Mabey was visiting Thailand for a week to receive the kingdom's Prince Mahidol Award for his career in public health.

Asked if foreign countries were correct to stop flights arriving from China, he replied:

"I would not worry. As you may have gathered, I'm not in panic mode about this. And why are we so worried about this when we are not worried about flu? That's my question.

"OK, some of us older people and people with other illnesses have been immunized against flu, but we know that flu mutates and new strains come along and yet we're not panicking. So why panic about coronavirus?"

Worldwide fear of the airborne disease escalated because of sensational updates, he said.

"I think social media and -- I'm afraid I hate to say things against the press -- but certainly in the U.K. before I came out here, every newspaper had it all over the front page for a good week. As soon as the Harry and Meghan story had gone, we had coronavirus."

The biggest lesson is the danger of so-called wet markets selling live and dead wild animals for human consumption.

"The public service message about all this is that China should ban markets selling wild animals, either live or recently killed, because that's where SARS came from and that's where this new one's come from.

"SARS they traced to a civet cat and they traced that back to a bat somewhere. Wild animals are particularly hazardous.

"We can't really ban chicken farming, which is where the avian flu comes from. The swine flu was a big panic, again which didn't come to much, quite honestly."

Wild creatures infected with viruses are more deadly to humans than domesticated animals, Mr. Mabey said.

"I guess the domesticated ones, we've shared our viruses with many generations, so we know what we're going to get from them and probably the viruses are adapted.

"When a new virus comes into a human, it can be quite virulent. But in general, as it passes from one human to another, it will mutate and become less virulent because for a virus to kill its host is not a good strategy for the virus, if it wants to go on being transmitted."


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!' Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60 Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco psychiatrist.

His online sites are:

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