Coronavirus: truth and myth on personal risk perception

Coronavirus CDC

(CDC, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Paula Pacheco Rocha, a student of the sixth period of Medicine of the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas- PUC Campinas. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


The epidemic is already predicted as a possibility and aggressive measures are being taken by governments worldwide. Recent history on this kind of virus (Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-Cov) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012) suggest low risk of catastrophe.

Governments and control organs should face the potential risk of epidemics so that they not spread undesirably. Nevertheless, rationally, there is a huge difference on individual perception risk compared to populational perception risk.

It is a cognitive misunderstanding to say individual risk of lethality is high for the Coronavirus. Epidemiology analysis is important to face some facts and let the fake news panic aside. First of all, the new Coronavirus has a lethality around 2%, while 2002 SARS had around 10% lethality.

Speaking of epidemiology still, the risk for dissemination is different from risk of lethality and most times they go opposite ways: smaller pathogenicity of a virus increases the chances of dissemination, as people do not skip work or stay at home due to light symptoms. That is why the risk of dissemination of Coronavirus is high and there are measures to try to isolate people with mild  symptomatology. The measures took upon isolating people look, intuitively, for the layman on the subject, as directed to a very lethal disease- which is not the case. Community-acquired pneumonia can reach 13% lethality among hospitalized patients and we have not seen any panic around that.

It is indeed necessary that there is professional and governmental worry around coronavirus, but, for the common individual, the panic is unjustifiable. On the matter of individual worries, people around the world have much more important problems to worry about, like the situation of their own country public health. Emerging infectious diseases occur and have been occurring for thousands of years, but, nowadays, the speed on which they spread is the biggest worry, turning a red light on diseases being globalized already, but not the public health coverage.

A Globalização da doença. Rev. Saúde Pública,  São Paulo ,  v. 37, n. 3, p. 273-274,  June  2003 .   Available from <http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0034-89102003000300001&lng=en&nrm=iso&gt;. access on  31  Jan.  2020.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0034-89102003000300001.

PERALTA, Rogelio MD et al. Community-acquired Pneumonia: A Potentially Lethal Emergency?. Clinical Pulmonary Medicine, [S. l.], v. 20, n. 4, p. 166-171, 1 jul. 2013.

About the author

Paula Pacheco Rocha is a student of the sixth period of Medicine of the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas- PUC Campinas. Class monitor of Microbiology, assisting the Professor Dr. Maria Magali Stelato. Member of IFMSA Brazil- PUC Campinas as LEO-in (Local Exchange Officer for incoming students) and LORA-D (Director of the Standing Committee of Sexual and Reproductive Health including HIV and AIDS). She believes immensely in Global Cooperation for the future of human health on Earth, with the development of technologies like AI and nanomedicine backed by ethical, human intercultural knowledge exchange.

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