Nurith Aizenman

When it comes to the spiraling global coronavirus outbreak, scientists are still trying to pin down the answer to a basic question: How deadly is this virus?

Estimates have varied widely. For instance, at a Feb. 24 news conference in Beijing, a top Chinese health official, Liang Wannian, said the fatality rate for COVID-19 was quite high.

"Between 3 to 4% of patients have died," said Liang.

Three years ago, NPR accompanied disease ecologist Kevin Olival on a field trip to Malaysian Borneo.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The number of people who are infected with the new coronavirus that is spreading from China is dwarfed by those affected by a far more common respiratory illness: seasonal flu.

Every year there are as many as 5 million severe flu cases worldwide and hundreds of thousands of deaths. By contrast, so far there have been about 20,000 (and rising) cases of coronavirus, most of them mild.

Just a few months ago, Tom Inglesby helped gather top officials from governments, businesses and health organizations around the world to play a kind of war game.

"It was a scenario looking at global consequences of a major new epidemic," says Inglesby, who directs the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University.

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