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Coronavirus: Is it such a big deal?

Coronavirus: Is it such a big deal?
The U.S. has not quarantined Americans since the early 1960s for then smallpox outbreaks.

While I generally write blogs about food safety, and the coronavirus is not about food safety, it sure can affect food supplies and create food shortages; or in the case of the quarantined cruise ship off the shores of Japan, it can create alcoholic beverage shortages.

With flights to and from China being restricted, the U.S. agriculture industry is seriously affected by this virus. Additionally, food security is threatened in China.

As of Feb. 13, there have been 60,000 reported cases of coronavirus, almost all of them in China. There have been 1,367 reported deaths, all of them in China.

To date there have been an estimated 22 million-31 million cases of influenza in the U.S. with 300,000 hospitalized and over 12,000 deaths from the flu. That is not a typo, the flu numbers are counted in the millions, not thousands.

These are Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) estimates because influenza is not even a reportable disease in the U.S.

“Flu” is a common word, and has been around since the great epidemic of 1918-1919. We are very familiar with it.

Coronavirus is not a common word, so it is scary to too many. Still, it really is common.

It is as common as the common cold, caused by a coronavirus. This latest outbreak is simply a variant of the virus causing the common cold.

Coronavirus has been the cause of several recent epidemics, such as SARS and MERS.

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome, caused a lot of angst but not a lot of deaths compared to influenza for which we have a preventative vaccine that too many Americans refuse to receive.

We know that most influenza deaths are linked to the very young and the very elderly, along with those persons suffering from a disease that makes them more vulnerable such as emphysema, auto-immune diseases and/or on chemotherapy.

Because the current outbreak is in China, we know little or nothing about the demographics of those who had died.

What we do know is that this current epidemic, now called SARS-CoV-2, is more transmissible than the original SARS virus it so closely resembles but is not as lethal. SARS killed one in 10 victims; this epidemic seems to have a 2% death rate.

The World Health Organization does not like the link to SARS, so it is calling the bug COVID-19, or CoronaVirus Disease 2019.

Two months ago, we had not heard about this new variant of the coronavirus, but now it is rocking financial markets, and thus worthy of a blog. But let’s take a look back at viral epidemics and their effect on the S & P markets:

  • SARS, in the early 2000s, based in China with global spread, saw a drop of 13% in the S & P
  • MERS in 2012 dropped the S & P by 7%
  • Ebola in 2014 with 11,000 deaths dropped the S & P by 6%

Today the markets seem to shoot up and down based on the most recent reports out of China, but they are essentially stable if not up. So maybe that is a good sign.

To me the worst sign is that we are quarantining folks being flown home from China on chartered jets. Some 50 plus of them are at the Nebraska National Guard training camp near Ashland, Neb., halfway between Lincoln and Omaha. My fellow Cornhuskers are asking what they did to deserve this potential exposure.

Maybe it is because the University of Nebraska Medical Center has one of the best biocontainment units in the nation and performed superbly when Ebola was the current crisis.

We have not quarantined Americans since the early 1960s for then smallpox outbreaks.

What does the CDC know that they are not sharing? Sure makes one wonder, doesn’t it?

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