Public health experts at Imperial College London estimate that the number of deadly Wuhan coronavirus infections is much greater than the number given by officials.
Professor Neil Ferguson, who heads a team at the college which carries out disease modeling for the World Health Organization, said there could be as many as 9,700 people infected with the virus, far more than the 600 officials have stated.
Nearly all individuals infected with the virus are in China, but the Center for Disease Control confirmed there have been two cases in the United States.
The virus outbreak sweeping China has killed at least 26 people, according to Business Insider, and has spread to at least nine other countries.
The issue with the number is not with the virus itself, the experts said, but how doctors report it, explaining that the doctors are too busy treating the virus to report them.
“You should not interpret that as the epidemic doubling in size in five days,” Ferguson said, adding that reports inside china reveal that “hospitals are now overwhelmed with suspect cases.”
There is a long gap between being infected with the disease and showing signs of it, according to University of Oxford professor Peter Horby, who studies emerging infectious diseases and global health.
“After about a week or so, they develop shortness of breath and then severe respiratory distress,” Horby said. “About 15 to 20% of hospitalized cases are severe, requiring oxygen or ventilation.”
Other symptoms of a mild form of the virus, which typically lasts a short period of time, include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell, according to the CDC.
More severe forms of coronavirus can result in lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. It is especially more common in infants and elderly adults, or people with comorbidity conditions such as cardiopulmonary disease or weakened immune systems.
“The people who are likely to die first will have other illnesses,” said the chief medical officer at Healix International, Adrian Hyzler. “But as it spreads, it’ll pick up more people like flu does.”
“Personally, I think this is a big event,” he added “Is it extraordinary? Yes, it pretty much is. We haven’t seen this large-scale spread since SARS.”
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned the disease has an “increased likelihood” of reaching the U.K., saying it would be hard to stop a “rapidly developing” outbreak of the virus from reaching them, despite the quarantine that had 11 million people in lockdown in Wuhan, China.
Hancock added reassurance to the public, saying there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.K. and the British government is “well prepared and well equipped to deal with them.”
Although there isn’t a vaccine to protect humans from contracting the virus, in order to help prevent catching the disease, travelers are recommended to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.