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Here's how the coronavirus stacks up against other deadly diseases

Anjalee Khemlani
Senior Reporter

China’s coronavirus, which has claimed more victims with each passing day, has spread beyond the country’s borders — but still not enough to pose a major threat to the world’s population.

Despite a daily surge in the number of cases and deaths and emergency declarations, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the outbreak does not constitute a pandemic. At least for now, 97 percent of the confirmed Wuhan virus cases remain in China, with limited outbreaks in dozens of other countries.

However, data reflect that even as the number of coronavirus cases have climbed exponentially in the past two weeks, when compared to others the current outbreak is not nearly as deadly.

It’s true that the total number of cases and total number of deaths have both surpassed severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) — the last major epidemic to emerge from China in 2003. However, SARS was more deadly based on a ratio of deaths to cases in the total timeframe of the outbreak.

How the coronavirus stacks up against other deadly viral diseases.

The new coronavirus (also called 2019-nCoV) belongs to the same family of viruses as SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) - another deadly coronavirus that emerged in the Middle East in 2012.

According to the WHO, the stats stack up this way:

  • SARS: 8,096 cases, 774 people died. A 10% mortality rate.

  • MERS: 2,494 cases, 858 people died. A 30% mortality rate.

  • Coronavirus: More than 23,000 cases, nearly 500 people have died.

In other words, the Wuhan outbreak currently has a 2% mortality rate — even with a higher rate of infections than other cases.

A point to note is the coronavirus mortality rate is similar to what SARS was during the outbreak, and the actual mortality rate will be clearer after the outbreak ceases.

Meanwhile, U.S. health experts have compared the number of domestic coronavirus deaths (none as of Wednesday) to the thousands of deaths that take place annually during flu season. But the flu also has a low mortality rate compared to the number of cases seen each year.

But one thing both the flu and the coronavirus have in common is they impact weaker immune systems the most. In China, the elderly have been the most heavily affected group from the virus outbreak.

“As with other respiratory illnesses, infection with (coronavirus) can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever,” the WHO said on its website.

“It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as, diabetes and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus,” the agency added.

The new coronavirus differs from SARS and MERS in one key way: Symptoms are less visible— such as pneumonia but without a runny nose. However, all three viruses can be caught in similar ways. If someone sneezes or coughs, the emitted droplets can infect someone if they touch it or breathe it in.

Officials have repeated that face masks cannot prevent the spread, and very close contact is what results in the spread. But there are steps that can be taken to help minimize exposure.

Wearing a face mask can help if it isn’t touched, is disposed of properly and covers the nose and mouth completely.

Washing hands regularly can also help, and avoiding being closer than 3 feet to a person also helps.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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