CDC's Schuchat: While coronavirus spreading faster than SARS, it could be less severe

CDC's Anne Schuchat
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D., updated reporters on Feb. 11 at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. about the coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China. (Tina Reed)

WASHINGTON DC—The novel coronavirus that has prompted health emergency declarations around the world appears to be spreading much faster than SARS did, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said.

But at the same time, the virus may turn out to be less severe than the virus known as SARS, which prompted similar global pandemic fears in 2003, CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat said while speaking at the National Press Club on Tuesday.  

SARS had a mortality rate of around 10% among patients that contracted the illness, she said. Meanwhile, preliminary data from China indicates the coronavirus may have closer to just over a 2% mortality rate.

The overall mortality based on the number of people around the world who have contracted the virus is much lower, although wider scale assessments still need to be completed, she said. 

She recommended providers remain vigilant while reiterating the risk of coronavirus is still low in the U.S.

RELATED: CDC to providers on coronavirus: 'Have a high index of suspicion'

"Anything that's novel can be scary before we know a lot about it," Schuchat said pointing to other illnesses such as the Zika virus. "People that have a runny nose or a fever are much more likely to have a normal kind of respiratory virus right now. Now, if you're presenting after travel to the Hubei province or from China, we want travelers to have their alert up and to let their clinicians know 'I was recently traveling.' They may need special evaluation. Clinicians may need to take special precautions."

Emphasizing a strategy of delaying the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., she was among top federal officials urging health professionals to "follow the playbook for their infectious disease response."

"The immediate risk to the American public at this time is low, and we are acting swiftly to keep that risk low," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during a speech at an event focused on health data. "But, I want to emphasize, the situation has the potential to change very quickly, and we are constantly preparing mitigation strategies that would be necessary if the situation does change."

RELATED: Infectious disease expert to clinicians on coronavirus: Just ask patients one question

In the meantime, officials are increasing testing capability to determine if patients are infected with the virus. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for a diagnostic test that was rapidly developed by the CDC. The test kits are available for order by U.S. state and local public health laboratories, Department of Defense laboratories, and select international laboratories.

Officials are also working to find ways to treat and prevent coronavirus. Officials said the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has been expanding its work with a drug company around a therapeutic drug candidate for the coronavirus and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is working on a potential vaccine with private sector partners. 

They said the FDA is also working to accelerate the development of those countermeasures and assess the risks that the outbreak could present to American medical supply chains that relay on  manufacturers in China.