STUMP » Articles » Pandemic: How Worried Should You Be About Coronavirus? » 29 January 2020, 03:44

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Pandemic: How Worried Should You Be About Coronavirus?   


29 January 2020, 03:44

Well, are you in Hubei province right now?

You should look at this map, and think about the numbers. I will link far more stories at the end of the post, but I want to make a specific point to discuss up here.

Yes, it sounds like this coronavirus is pretty infectious, and it does have a respectable death rate so far (meaning, it’s more than 1%).

But this is true of a different virus as well:

Now, I could argue (and I do argue) that people in the developed world don’t take regular flu seriously enough.

Tens of thousands of Americans each year die from the flu. Part of the reason it’s not taken overly seriously is that most of those who die from the flu are old.


There’s not much you can do about coronavirus right now, other than stay out of Hubei province in China.

The following facebook post showed up in my memories from two years ago, which anybody can read.

I will excerpt a few bits.

Between 1977 and 1987, Japan made influenza immunization mandatory for schoolchildren. Coverage rates ranged from 50-85%. School absenteeism plummeted and illness death rates dropped – not only for children, but for the elderly, for whom attack rates dropped as much as 80% and deaths dropped by about half even though they weren’t prioritized for vaccination. Serious side effects were estimated to be about one in a million. And yes, illness and deaths rose immediately after the program was discontinued.

US estimates of annual hospitalizations are in the hundreds of thousands, and flu typically kills more people than car accidents. Some seasons are worse than others, and this season [2017-2018] is worse than last year, but it’s looking similar to 2014-15, when 148 children died.
…the flu vaccine does, in general, work well. No one can guarantee that you’ll be protected against flu entirely, and there’s the inconvenience of having to be vaccinated every year. But vaccine programs work best when we immunize more people and create herd immunity.

Vaccines, in general, do not work well for the elderly, when given to them directly.

They are awesome, though, when the little disease vectors called their grandchildren are vaccinated. Kids are unhygenic, and often gathered together with a bunch of other unhygenic kids.

It used to be that I was the only person in my family to get the flu shot, because all my kids were homeschooled at the time, and I was the person who had the most interactions in public. [And yes, I was the one most likely to get the flu]

Now, all of us get the flu shot. It’s covered on our insurance, but even if it weren’t, it usually goes for about $20 at most drug stores. Many places, you don’t even need to make an appointment. Just go in. They’ll have signs outside.

Many people don’t take the flu seriously, because you might just be a little achey and maybe it’s not too bad for you. Til that one time. But you forget it the next year.

As I write this, I see about 4500 confirmed cases, worldwide, of Coronavirus 2019-nCoV. Almost all the cases are in China. There are 107 deaths.

There have already been 54 pediatric deaths from seasonal flu this season. If you look at the history of pediatric deaths in the U.S. due to flu, it’s over 100 deaths each year. Far more older folks, to be sure, but the CDC especially investigate pediatric deaths due to flu.

More broadly, in the United States the CDC estimates, as of January 11, 2020, 13 million influenza illnesses, 120,000 hospitalizations, and 6600 flu-related deaths. The flu season starts around September, iirc.

It’s okay to be concerned about the Coronavirus 2019-nCoV, because I know I don’t trust the Chinese government to have good data (for a lot of reasons), and even if they did, they wouldn’t necessarily share it.

However, you really should take “ordinary” flu seriously, too.

Yes, it’s the end of January, but you should still be able to get a flu shot, if you need one.


I have pulled these stories from the bits I’ve been taking from the Actuarial Outpost. There is a long-running thread I keep with an eye on epidemics, and somebody created a thread on the Wuhan coronavirus alone.

Yes, shutting down flights does tend to do that. Temporarily. Dumbass.

I would also like to thank FluWiki on facebook, run by Carol Owens.

One thing to keep in mind: general media gets attention not necessarily by being accurate (and definitely not by being precise), so in some of these cases, the most extreme statements will get into the headlines.

Some of the sources I link to are not general media, but aimed at specialized audiences. They may definitely have some reputational skin in the game.

But any of them can be wrong. It really is early, but it would be nice to think that our regular flu season might get damped down because people were more vigilant due to worries over coronavirus.

But here is something to note: Another Coronavirus Outbreak – What Should Insurers Do?

I’m not going to get too far into insurance issues right now, but in general, if people want to think about how bad things get, etc., insurers are going to be on the forefront. Because insurers will be paying a huge chunk in claims, whether it’s the obvious items like health coverage and life insurance, or the less obvious, like business interruption coverage or workers compensation.

The news of an outbreak in China of a new type of coronavirus (2019-nCoV), leading to respiratory illness, recalls previous potential pandemic infections. Coronavirus was behind SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2002 and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2012. The outbreak is being linked to people eating the infected meat of small mammals or reptiles – an echo of Ebola.

Insurers can do little to identify infected individuals during the window before they become symptomatic. The features are commonplace: fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties but in severe cases this may lead to pneumonia and even death. The WHO Emergency Committee published a statement on 23 January 2020. The latest epidemiological data reveals the proportion of deaths in currently reported cases is 4%. MERS was much higher at 23%.

While it is likely the WHO will label this an international public health emergency, insurers need not panic. The pattern of broad-spectrum severity, with deaths mainly in sickly individuals, is akin to most flu outbreaks.

So, if you find this scary…. please find flu scary, too. It’s mainly vulnerable people who die in all these cases, because the rest of us are complacent.

If you’re interested in a discussion forum on this, there’s a China_Flu subreddit. As for me, I’ll be hanging out with the actuaries.

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