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The two strains of Coronavirus, the mortality rate and more insight from Dean of USF Medicine [Audio]

Megan Holmes

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Click the play arrow above to hear Dr. Lockwood’s comments and answers to audience questions at the Vinoy Business Alliance event.

Dr. Charles J. Lockwood, Senior Vice President for USF Health, Dean of the Morsani College of Medicine and Professor of Ob/Gyn and Public Health at the University of South Florida, knows a thing or two about public health. He shared important insights and answered questions from the crowd at the Vinoy Business Alliance Thursday afternoon.

“These are no ordinary times,” Lockwood said. “I’m happy to talk about my favorite topic, USF Health, but I’m really here also as a physician so I’m eager to answer any questions you have about coronavirus.”

Lockwood described the coronavirus outbreak as an unusually complicated public health challenge for a number of reasons, particularly because of a lack of detailed information about the outbreak in other places.

What do we know?

The COVID-19 coronavirus, Lockwood said, is genetically similar to SARS and MERS. It likely transferred from a bat to another animal, and was then transmitted in markets in Asia to humans.

It is unusual, though, in several respects, he said. While it is not nearly as fatal as SARS or MERS, that fatality rate has upsides and downsides – less fatalities makes the virus much more communicable.

How does the coronavirus compare to influenza? 

R0, pronounced “R naught,” is the mathematical value that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. For the novel coronavirus, the value is three, which means every person infected likely transmits the virus to three people. The value for influenza is two. The reported mortality rate for the novel coronavirus is about 3 percent, while the rate for influenza is around .2 percent. Therefore, the coronavirus, according to current numbers, appears to be 10 times more fatal than the flu.

“Looking at Italy, it’s probably accurate,” said Lockwood. “Italians have a great healthcare system. They have outstanding acute care. They screwed up badly from a public health standpoint by allowing it to spread, but the treatment of their patients is as good as ours.”

According to Lockwood, a major problem in understanding the extent of the public health emergency is that we really don’t know how many people have been infected or are currently infected with coronavirus. There may be a lot of people infected who are not showing symptoms, which means that the fatality rate could be somewhat inflated.

Who should be concerned? 

Lockwood explained that the virus enters the body by binding to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), something adult bodies have in abundance, but is not found as commonly in children. Because of this, kids have been less affected by the virus and tend to have milder symptoms if they are infected.

As a OB/GYN, Lockwood said that pregnant women are doing fine and sees the coronavirus as less of a concern than influenza itself. He emphasized that coronavirus is unlike Zika virus and does not cause birth defects.

According to Lockwood, young and healthy individuals under 65 face a fairly minimal risk, particularly those under 50. He recommended that individuals over 85 and individuals over 65 with comorbidities like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease should stay at home.

Which countries are doing well? 

“The country who has done this really well is South Korea,” Lockwood said. “They’ve tested 200,000 people, they have great public health, they’ve immediately identified cases and isolated everyone who has been in contact. See rates disappear over the next few months.”

The United States has not done widespread testing for a variety of reasons, including the nature of the U.S. health system. However, public health emergencies, Lockwood said, dictate that the U.S. offer free testing to everyone as soon as possible.

“We can do this,” Lockwood said. “But it requires testing, isolation and everybody applying, with religious fervor, the personal hygiene things I talk about.”

What should you do?

Social isolation is going to be a major factor, Lockwood said. Large gatherings are not great places to be, especially for individuals above 65, with comorbidities. He advised gathering only in groups of 100 or less and washing hands thoroughly, between fingers and under fingernails. Hand washing should occur when entering and exiting. Lockwood also advised bringing Clorox Bleach wipes and wiping down surfaces before using them for the next six months.

Two strains of the virus

According to Lockwood, there are two strains of the virus, one from China and one from Europe. The strain from China is milder and has been prevalent on the West Coast of the United States. The L-strain from Europe is a much more significant virus, and has been prevalent on the East Coast of the United States.

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