The proportion of people diagnosed with COVID-19 that have died globally is currently 4.9 per cent (as at 31/3/20). This is a scary figure! Still scarier is the fact that in Italy the fatality rate is double this at just under 10%!

Nevertheless, these numbers need to be looked at in a rational way before panic sends your stress and anxiety levels through the roof.  In actuality the figures are quite confusing and swing wildly between countries. For instance, north of the Italian border, in Germany, the death rate is just .8 per cent and in South Korea, the mortality rate is only 1.6 per cent.

So why such a difference between countries?

One of the reasons touted is the amount of testing that has been carried out. In a cohort with fewer diagnosed cases, the percentage of fatalities recorded will be higher.

Another factor is the well being of those infected. The experience with coronavirus shows that age alone is not a comprising factor. It is the health of those catching the disease that is crucial. While it has been established that those over the age of 70 years have a greater risk of dying from the virus, their pre-existing medical condition(s) undoubtedly has an impact on the outcome. Again using Italy as an example, the reported number of people that have contracted COVID19 over 70 years is 36% (while they make up 69.9% of the deaths). Those contracting the disease up to age 50 years make up 26% (1.1%), and those in between, 51-70, comprise 37% (29%).

Many of those dying have had other health problems too – blood disorders, diabetes, heart problems and other problems associated with “life-style” choices – while some in their 80’s and beyond, have recovered after having only mild symptoms.  Those whose deaths have been reported, have died with coronavirus but not necessarily from coronavirus – there is a difference. Numerous victims would have died of other causes if no pandemic had occurred. Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, said the proportion of Covid-19 victims who would have died anyway could be “as many as half or two-thirds”. In other words, people recorded as dying from the virus may already be dying from underlying health problems. The virus is only a contributory factor in this situation.

There is also the myth that young people are more immune to this disease than the older generation.  Incorrect. Young people are also at high risk of contracting the disease but the development into a serious illness is not as great. For instance, in South Korea, about a third of confirmed cases are in people aged 30 or under . The death rate is much lower though.

The bottom line is that people aged 65 years or older, and those with underlying health conditions are still, clearly, most at risk for developing severe illness and dying from COVID-19. But people in the younger age groups are certainly not immune to the same outcome.

So what can we do to protect ourselves?

Prof Petousis-Harris of the University of Auckland said, “If someone gets infected, the best defence they have is their immune system,” and that “eating as well as possible; getting a bit of exercise; and the value of sleep on the performance of the immune system cannot be understated and spending a fortune on vitamins and potions is unlikely to be helpful.” Additionally, stress has a negative impact on your immunity system.

So at a time like this it is important to not only eat good quality food, but also to chill out. Social distancing to avoid contracting the virus is important but also isolating yourself from the continual pessimistic views being publicised is important for your mental health too. When at home, do things that will not contribute to your anxiety levels – for one, take time out from your device and newsfeeds, along with your social media streams. Naturally there is no need to cut it out completely, but timetable a check in once or twice a day only. Step back from the continual news reports as well, as much of it is simply click bait that is creating a lot of nervousness.

A typical example (in my opinion) of unnecessary and alarmist reporting is an article posted in the New Zealand Herald yesterday. Headlined with Covid 19 coronavirus: Uncontrolled spread could kill 14,000 in NZ and filled with “what ifs”, “maybes” and “things that would happen if we weren’t doing what we are doing” does nothing but raise needless fear and panic in readers for things that are unlikely to happen. Buried in the last line of the last paragraph is the alternate “best” scenario which says the current shut-down could limit the number of deaths “to just 20 people and hospital capacity would remain within limits for more than a year”.  That would have been a better and a more encouraging headline!

The fear of contracting coronavirus is pervasive.

You should be concerned and take this seriously. But you should not panic. The fear being generated by the published statistics, the evening news, your social “silo” of information, our Governments solution and every radio report, creates more stress and anxiety than the situation deserves. Panic can make us act irrationally and being stressed out will not help your immunity system or your response to the circumstances we find ourselves.

President Franklin Roosevelt famously asserted, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Being healthy in the first place, looking after your mental health positively and following the advertised precautions will reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 considerably.

Remember that most cases of COVID-19 are mild and may feel similar to the seasonal flu before a person recovers and unless there have been a number of cases reported in your area, your risk of contagion is considered low.