Coronavirus 101: What You Need to Know

Dr. Segal: "COVID-19 is a lot more aggressive than the Flu"

Dr Brahm Segal, Chief of Infectious Diseases Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

WBEN Photo/Susan Rose

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - A virus, first identified in the city of Wuhan, China in December, is now a household name across the globe. Coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been crossing borders and spreading rapidly. 

Health officials say it's only a matter of time before it spreads further in the U.S.

WBEN invited Dr Brahm Segal, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, to share his knowledge of the virus.

Q: How is Coronavirus different from the Flu?

"This COVID-19 is a lot more aggressive. It's more likely to cause severe illness. Right now we're seeing substantial flu activity in Western New York. With the flu, we have anti-viral therapy and a vaccine. With COVID-19, we have neither. And the mortality level is higher with COVID-19.  If we look at all 80-thousand cases of COVID-19, the mortality rate is in the 3% range, which is higher than what we see with seasonal flu.  When I say more aggressive, I'm talking about a more severe illness. The chance of needing hospitalization and even death is massively higher than more routine viruses."

Q Why do some people have milder symptoms than others?

"We have different immune systems. This virus is different than what most people have been exposed to. Because it's different, our immune system is working from scratch rather than from prior viral exposure. It may have genes that make it intrinsically nastier, or our immune systems are just not used to the virus and not responding to it."

Q We're hearing about the first case of community spread Coronavirus in the U.S. A person with no apparent connection to anyone who traveled to China has come down with coronavirus. How much of a concern is that?

"It's a concern. There's not enough out there for me to comment on this one case. But I can tell you that there's been a little over 50 cases in the U.S. of coronavirus. The vast majority are with people who had direct travel exposure to the affected area in China. The World Health Organization has announced that most new cases are being diagnosed outside of China. Northern Italy, for reasons that are unclear to me, has become the epicenter in Europe, outside of China. In Milan and Venice we're seeing a substantial number of cases and the numbers keep changing. As of yesterday it was more than 400 cases. This is an example of community spread. This is a take home lesson as we prepare diligently for it."

Q: How is Coronavirus spread?

"The main way that it is spread is through droplets. Microscopic droplets can fall to the ground by gravity as opposed to measles which is airborne and hangs around longer in the air. If there is physical distance of six feet or more, the risk is lower. Because of the severity of coronavirus, the precautions go one step further. It involves gowns, gloves, masks that we use for TB precautions. It's a special mask that goes one step above."

Q: With so many cases of seasonal flu, and not one case of coronavirus locally, is this being overblown at all?

"It's not being overblown. The response is just right in my view."

Q What is the status of a coronavirus vaccine?

"It doesn't exist right now but I'm amazed at how the field has advanced.  We just learned about it in December. In January the genome was sequenced. The virus is being cultured. The technology is just so good now that there is a very realistic expectation that sometime this year there will be a vaccine. It's a very positive thing that the field can move that quickly."







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