NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Dr. James Lange was a young microbiologist at the CDC when he worked on the team that discovered the Ebola virus in 1976.
Much of his career was spent studying infectious diseases.
“Ebola requires very intimate, person-to-person contact,” Lange said.
In contrast, the COVID-19 coronavirus transmits by droplets on surfaces or in the air.
“You and I are generating droplets as we converse," Lange said. "That is a given.”
Because it is a respiratory illness, COVID-19 is transmitted much more easily from one individual to another.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 370,000 Americans are hospitalized each year with the flu, leading some skeptics to ask why there is so much concern about this new illness.
Dr. Lange and many other scientists point out doctors lack the same kind of weapons to fight this new coronavirus, vaccines or proven anti-virals.
China first reported the novel coronavirus to the World Health Organization on December 31 in the city of Wuhan.
“From there, it’s in 154 countries how long after transmission? Not very long," Lange said.
If the numbers keep rising, health experts worry the disease will overwhelm the health care system.
“We need to work and suffer, as it were, to flatten this curve as best we can as soon as we can.”
While researchers do not yet understand how efficiently the virus gets transmitted, some speculate it will follow the pattern of other coronaviruses and fade during the summer.
Lange cautions it is too early to know for certain how the virus will behave in the warmer months.
"We don’t know whether it will continue to percolate and pop up cases here and there for who knows how long.
He echoes public health officials, who say the solution lies in clearing the streets and public places of people
“I’m an optimist by nature,” Lange said. "So, I think people are going to put into practice the recommended procedures that we have to practice in order to flatten this curve that’s headed up at the moment.