Expert on infectious diseases weighs in on coronavirus: 'Death rate is still fairly low'

MILWAUKEE -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has started shipping test kits to detect the Wuhan coronavirus to select U.S. and international laboratories. Officials say this will improve detection and response to the outbreak.

This comes as the number of confirmed cases worldwide continues to rise. But are we at risk here in Wisconsin? As of Friday, Feb. 7, the total number of infected people climbed past 30,000, with a death toll of more than 600 people. Twelve cases have been confirmed in the U.S. so far -- one of those in Wisconsin; still, it's China that has been impacted the most.

Cecilia Miao

Cecilia Miao graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014 -- and currently lives in Beijing. She said the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is taking a toll. Normally crowded streets, she said, are now empty.

"Seeing this makes me pretty sad. I've never experienced a complete slowdown of the Chinese workforce," Miao said. "One of the first reactions is -- this is new, this is serious."

The Wuhan coronavirus can progress in some patients and require hospitalization.

Dr. Robert Gullberg

"This infection tends to cause the lungs to be dysfunctional," said Dr. Robert Gullberg, an infectious disease specialist with Ascension All Saints Hospital in Racine.

However, Dr. Gullberg said it is important to understand only a fraction of people infected will become deathly ill. Most people, he said, will exhibit symptoms much like a common cold.

"The death rate is still fairly low," said Dr. Gullberg. "Even this particular more virulent coronavirus is going to infect you like the common cold. It's not going to progress."

In fact, Dr. Gullberg said more people are recovering from this strain of coronavirus, than they are dying. He also said in Wisconsin, unless you've visited China recently or have come into contact with someone who has, there isn't much reason to worry.

"For this particular strain, the key is going to be, has there been a connection with China?" Dr. Gullberg said.

There is only one confirmed case of the Wuhan coronavirus in Wisconsin. It is someone who officials say recently returned from China.

In the meantime, eight people in the state have tested negative -- while five others are awaiting their results.