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141 people are being monitored in San Diego County for possible exposure

By Miriam Raftery

March 1, 2020 (San Diego) – Over 85,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide on every continent except Antarctica, causing approximately 3,000 deaths, the World Health Organization reports. The first U.S. death has occurred in Washington state and at least 30 cases have been identified in California, the Los Angeles Times reports. These include cases among people who did not travel overseas recently and it is unknown how they were exposed to the virus.

San Diego County has 141 people  being monitored who may have beene exposed .  Mexico also reported its first case this week.

Now, a broad study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reveals that the COVID-19 virus has a death rate nearly as high as the 1918 influenza epidemic, which killed 50-100 million people worldwide and infected a third of the world’s population, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The standard flu kills only about 0.1% of those infected. By contrast, the 1918 epidemic had  fatality rate of 2.5%.  As for COVID-19, out of 72,314 cases in China studied, JAMA reports a death rate of 2.3%--but much higher in older people and patients with underlying health conditions. 

COVID-19 has killed 14.8% of patients over age 80 and 8% of patients in their 70s.  It’s also deadlier for people with certain medical conditions:  10.5% of those with heart conditions died, 7.3% of those with diabetes, 6.3% o patients with chronic respiratory diseases, and 5.6% of cancer patients.

The World Health Organization had earlier estimated a death rate of 0.7%, far lower than the rate now identified after many more cases have been studied.

Though the death rate from COVID-19 is still far lower than from the SARS virus, COVID-19 appears to spread more easily because people can be contagious for days before showing any symptoms. This makes it harder to quarantine people if they are not known to be exposed.

Fear of the COVID-19, a new form of coronavirus first identified in late December in China, has prompted global disruptions. Cruise ships with outbreaks have quarantined passengers for weeks. Some schools in Japan and China have shut down for a month or more.  Major festivals and tourist attractions around the world have been cancelled In the U.S., the stock market plunged over 900 points in a day.

Although no locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 have yet been identified in San Diego, county officials have declared a local emergency and a local health emergency to free up resources to prevent and respond to an outbreak.  A key worry of California health officials is the potential for a COVID-19 outbreak reaching the large homeless population, where many people with underlying health conditions would be particularly vulnerable, the Los Angeles Time reports.

Severe lung damage is what's killing patients with COVID-19.  Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and extreme shortness of breath. If symptomatic, make testing arrangements by telephone to avoid infecting others in the hospital.

The best way to avoid getting sick, and to prevent spreading illness to others, is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water throughout the day, avoid touching your face, stay home if you're sick, cover your coughs and sneezes in your elbow or better yet with a tissue, and clean frequently touched surfaces.

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