The U.S. death toll of the novel coronavirus rose Wednesday to 11, heightening concerns about how the virus works and, more importantly, how it kills.
The first case of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 is believed to have appeared December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Since late February, the virus has spread to 36 other countries and territories and has a global death toll of 3,041, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general for the World Health Organization (WHO), told the BBC.
Like similar respiratory diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the new coronavirus COVID-19 begins by infecting the tissues and airways inside the lungs, causing fever, coughing, and fatigue, which are the most common symptoms, according to the BBC. (RELATED: Worried About ‘Corona Virus’ Or The Flu? Here’s The Best Practices to Avoid Getting Sick)
Once a person is infected, the virus then invades the two kinds of cells in lung tissue including the mucus-producing cells and the cilia, University of Maryland School of Medicine associate professor Matthew B. Frieman, who researches pathogenic coronaviruses, told National Geographic.
Some of the more recent studies on COVID-19 suggested that the novel coronavirus, like SARS, infects and kills those mucus-producing cells, filling patients’ airways with fluid and causing pneumonia in both lungs. As the immune system fights back, scarring occurs, which stiffens the lungs and causes breathing trouble.
“In severe cases, you basically flood your lungs and you can’t breathe,” Frieman said. “That’s how people are dying.”
While the death rates among confirmed cases don’t reveal a certain cause for the virus, there are patterns that show which groups are most at risk. (RELATED: Stocks Roar Back From Coronavirus Plunge To Biggest Gain Since 2009)
In the first thorough analysis of over 44,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in China, the death rate was ten times higher in elderly individuals compared to middle-aged individuals, young adults and children.
Deaths directly caused by the coronavirus were highest among people over the age of 70 and lowest among people under 30, said the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC). In addition, fatality from the virus was approximately five times more common among people with diabetes, high blood pressure or respiratory diseases.
While coronavirus has led to more than 89,000 illnesses and 3,000 deaths globally, the amount of fatalities from the influenza virus are still significantly higher with approximately 32 million confirmed cases, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths this season in the U.S. alone, according to the CDC.
The chances of contracting and dying from the virus depends on certain set of factors, said the China CDC, like age, sex and pre-existing medical conditions. (RELATED: NBA Says Players Should Limit High-Fives Amid Coronavirus Fears)
The elderly are the most likely demographic to die from the virus, according to the China CDC. There was also a slightly higher fatality rate among men than women.
In a study conducted by the Journal of Medical Virology, the average age range of patients was 48-89, and eight of the patients were over the age of 80. Of the first 17 corona-virus-related deaths, 13 were male and only four were female.
The primary symptoms among these initial deaths included fever, found in 11 patients, and cough, found in 9.
The CDC advised that the best defense against the virus is by washing your hands, avoiding people who are coughing or sneezing, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.