BANGKOK, Thailand -- International panic over the coronavirus is hyped
mostly by social media and news reports, but the actual death rate is
the same as the flu and less people will die as the virus mutates,
according to David Mabey, a professor of communicable diseases at the
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

" I think the risk of acquiring it is pretty low," Mr. Mabey said in
an interview.

"I know there have been cases reported in Thailand, but Thailand is a
big country and there are not many cases. I think if I were in Wuhan,
I probably would be wearing a mask. But as it is, I think the risk of
getting infected is low.

"I think the infection is not particularly virulent, as far as we have
learned, about 1% mortality which is the same as flu. And I don't go
around wearing a mask all the time because I might get flu."

Mr. Mabey was visiting Thailand for a week to receive the kingdom's
Prince Mahidol Award for his career in public health.

Asked if foreign countries were correct to stop flights arriving from
China, he replied:

" I would not worry. As you may have gathered, I'm not in panic mode
about this. And why are we so worried about this when we are not
worried about flu? That's my question.

"OK, some of us older people and people with other illnesses have been
immunized against flu, but we know that flu mutates and new strains
come along and yet we're not panicking. So why panic about

Worldwide fear of the airborne disease escalated because of
sensational updates, he said.

"I think social media and -- I'm afraid I hate to say things against
the press -- but certainly in the U.K. before I came out here, every
newspaper had it all over the front page for a good week. As soon as
the Harry and Meghan story had gone, we had coronavirus."

The biggest lesson thus far is about the danger of so-called wet
markets selling live and dead wild animals for human consumption.

"The public service message about all this is that China should ban
markets selling wild animals, either live or recently killed, because
that's where SARS came from and that's where this new one's come from.

"SARS they traced to a civet cat and they traced that back to a bat
somewhere. Wild animals are particularly hazardous.

"We can't really ban chicken farming, which is where the avian flu
comes from. The swine flu was a big panic, again which didn't come to
much, quite honestly."

Wild creatures infected with viruses are more deadly to humans than
domesticated animals, Mr. Mabey said.

"I guess the domesticated ones, we've shared our viruses with many
generations, so we know what we're going to get from them and probably
the viruses are adapted.

"When a new virus comes into a human, it can be quite virulent. But in
general, as it passes from one human to another, it will mutate and
become less virulent because for a virus to kill its host is not a
good strategy for the virus, if it wants to go on being transmitted."