For U.S. life and health insurance agents, the new coronavirus could be another false alarm — but it, or something like it, could turn out to have an impact.
The 2002-2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak that flared in 2014, and the 2015-16 Zika virus outbreak ended up having little effect on typical U.S. agents.
Influenza kills thousands of people every year, but, in recent decades, the main direct impact on agents has probably been to force some to stay home for a few days.
At this point, public health authorities say, the coronavirus outbreak that started in 2019 in the city of Wuhan, in China, appears to be mainly a problem for people who live in Wuhan — but Li Bin, deputy director of China’s health agency, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China, said Wednesday, at a press conference in Beijing, that the virus could mutate.
“The epidemic is at risk of spreading further,” Li said, according to a Google Translate translation of the press conference transcript.
- Here’s a link to the CDC’s 2019-nCoV situation summary page.
- Here’s a link to the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China English-language news release page.
- Here’s a link to a Chinese-language transcript of China’s Jan. 22 press conference on the virus. (One way to read it is to install the Google Translate browser tool.)
- Here’s a link to an article about an analysis of the possible effects of a disease similar to the 1918 Spanish flu on U.S. life insurers.
- Here’s an article a sister publication ran about the possible effects of SARS on insurers in 2003.
Here’s a look at three agents might want to know about the outbreak.
1. Public health specialists aren’t sure what to make of it.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling the virus the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV.
China has identified 964 confirmed or suspected cases of the virus, as of Wednesday, including 95 cases severe enough to require invasive mechanical ventilation, and 17 leading to death.
Most of the patients who have died have been people age 60 and older who had serious health problems before the came down with 2019-nCoV infections, but one was a 53-year-old man with no known serious health problems.
The known 2019-nCoV patients have started out with symptoms that included fever, a cough and shortness of breath.
Coronaviruses typically spread from animals to people, but officials believe that 2019-nCoV is spreading from person to person through the moist droplets that go into the air when sick people cough or sneeze.
The earlier SARS and MERS outbreaks were both caused by coronaviruses. The SARS outbreak eventually caused 8,098 known cases and led to 774 deaths, with most of the cases and deaths occurring in China and Hong Kong, according to CDC data.
The 2014 MERS outbreak in Saudi Arabia led to 688 confirmed infections and 282 deaths, according to public health officials in Saudi Arabia.
“Spread of SARS and MERS between people has generally occurred between close contacts,” according to a CDC 2019-nCoV situation summary report.
But public health officials in China have taken aggressive steps to guard against the possibility that the 2019-nCoV virus could infect more people, mutate, and become much more contagious.
Officials in China have sharply limited movement of people in and out of Wuhan, shut down public transportation, closed movie theaters, asked people to wear face masks, and added many other restrictions and programs. Some other cities in China are taking similar steps.