Comparing Coronavirus to other deadly outbreaks with Paul Bunge M.D.

Emmanuel Son, Staff Writer 


In late February 2020, the worldwide death toll of Coronavirus reached a staggering 2,000. The recent death of a Chinese patient in France marks the first death outside of Asia, as well as the first in Europe. A cruise ship quarantine in Japan, revealed 542 cases of the virus among the 3,711 passengers. There have been a total of 15 cases in the United States reported in: California, Illinois, Texas, Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. Experts have predicted that the disease will continue to spread worldwide. 

One of the last notable international outbreak concerns was the West Africa Ebola epidemic of late 2014. The Ebola outbreak saw a total of 28,646 cases across Africa and Europe. In 2014, Paul Bunge, M.D., had the opportunity to travel to Liberia for a month to train local physicians and nurses in attempts to help cure patients and cases. 

“Coronavirus is a lot like the cold virus that just happens to be severely severe,” Bunge said. 

It is much like the yearly influenza that comes around. Coronavirus is very similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that came out a few years back. The Ebola disease is very different in how it affects the body. Ebola thrives off the immune cells, including the skin or the mouth, and the disease spreads in very severe cases. However, when it spreads, it happens to already be greatly progressed into the disease already. 

With Ebola, you can be sick for days when you do not even have virus shedding yet. Coronavirus has a greater tendency to spread around through symptoms such as coughing and sneezing. Some illnesses similar to Coronavirus include cold viruses such as: Rhinovirus or Influenza, especially in the symptoms an individual could present, such as a runny nose or a sore throat. 

When asked about how much the effects and results of the coronavirus is hyped by the media, Bunge explained that the virus itself is still being studied. There are things experts know, but some things are still being figured out.

When studying this virus, Bunge explained the importance of comparing the virus itself with similar outbreaks in recent history. For example, the Influenza virus of 1918 was the first serious worldwide disease that spread through modern modes of travel. This Influenza virus outbreak killed millions. Many of those at the time did not know what was going on or what to do. People at the time did not think that there was immunity to influenza, which was part of the problem. 

Other similar outbreaks in more recent times were the MERS of 2012 and 2015, and the SARS of 2002. The SARS outbreak came from Asia and was a severe viral disease. Although the MERS outbreak was very similar to the SARS outbreak, the illness itself was not as severe. Both of these diseases were a form of the Coronavirus. 

About 10 percent of those who got either MERS or SARS died. The results of this still do not add up to the death toll of the 1918 Influenza outbreak. Yearly influenza outbreaks kill about 0.1 percent of those that contract the disease. 

Right now, Coronavirus kills about two percent of whoever contracts the illness. SARS killed about 10 percent of whoever contracted it. The 1918 Influenza outbreak killed about 19 percent of those who contracted it. There were many factors that have contributed to the number of those affected by Coronavirus. A major problem in Wuhan, the point of origin for the virus, is the lack of space at local hospitals. 

Most of these viruses have not been around that long. A lot of the recent outbreaks in the world formed in new ways, but the commonality that these diseases and viruses have, is their contact between humans and animals. Such contagions often originate from a specific animal that has some sort of virus. The viruses that some animals carry around might not be bad for the creature themselves, but the virus spreads throughout the body of the animal as if it were an “animal cold.” Often these viruses make the jump between these animals and humans, and proceed to evolve quickly. 

Sometimes these viruses infect humans through food contact. The virus can change even more as it enters the human body. There are speculations that the Coronavirus came from bat soup. 

Bunge commented, “It’s probably from bats because the genes are smarter in bats, but we cannot be 100 percent sure.” 

Bunge also points out that SARS and MERS both came from bats, so their involvement in Coronavirus is very much possible, but we cannot be sure. Bunge points out that not every virus contracted from an animal is from consumption. Many of these diseases are strongest in the throat. Usually, it can spread to humans if, for example, you live around chickens or pigs that carry disease. The air in the slaughterhouse and marketplace where the animal is being sold is another common place where disease from animals can be picked up. It is very possible that the Coronavirus started its spread through contaminated air in a market in Wuhan, China. 

There are many steps to make sure that travelers coming from China have not been affected by Coronavirus. The local public health departments are being made aware of travelers entering their communities. Travelers are to be quarantined in their homes, being told to take on the responsibilities of quarantining themselves, and to alert the public health department if any symptoms or sickness occurs. 

Americans who were being taken out of Wuhan specifically have been quarantined at March Air Reserve Base. Just like those being told to self-quarantine at home, travelers quarantined at March Air Reserve Base are being looked over for any symptoms. Those that show no signs of symptoms most likely do not have coronavirus. Testing will likely only happen if symptoms are shown.

When questioned about the curability of the virus, Bunge claimed, “We don’t have a cure per se, but probably 98 percent of people will be fine.” 

One American has died which accounts for two percent of Americans since there have been about 100 Americans who have contracted the virus so far. There are no specific medications for this particular virus. 

Some positive news is that the doubling rate has been decreasing. At the start of the virus, the number of times cases doubled was about every two to three days. It looks like doubling has now gone down to every five to seven days. Even though there are 30,000 to 40,000 cases, it took seven days for that number to get from 20,000 to 40,000. 

When asked if he would travel to Wuhan to find a way to help with the Coronavirus just like he did in Liberia with Ebola, Bunge responded, “If there was something I could do, I definitely would be willing to do it.” The struggle he faces is not knowing how to speak Chinese and the pride the Chinese government takes in handling medical issues. 


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