Death rates of coronavirus may be HALF initial estimates by world health chiefs, promising study finds


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Death rates of coronavirus may be HALF initial estimates by world health chiefs, promising study finds

  • International researchers compiled data on COVID-19 cases in Wuhan, China
  • They found that overall, the proportion of patients that died was 1.4 per cent
  • World Health Organization said in early March the death rate was 3.4 per cent
  • The preliminary findings come as the global death toll nears 10,000
  • The scientists suggested focusing on how to reduce the severity of the illness
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

By Vanessa Chalmers Health Reporter For Mailonline, 19 March 2020

The death rate of coronavirus may be half of what world health chiefs expected it to be, according to a study.

International researchers compiled data on coronavirus cases in Wuhan, the Chinese city of 11million people where the deadly disease emerged in December 2019.

They found that, overall, the number of people who died after getting sick with the coronavirus was 1.4 per cent. In comparison, estimations by the World Health Organization in early March said 3.4 per cent of diagnosed patients had died.

And the true figure is likely to be even lower because so many people are believed to be going undiagnosed.

By comparison the death rate of flu is around 0.1 per cent.

Coronavirus patients often don’t know they’re infected – as many as eight out of 10 could have no symptoms in the early stages of an outbreak, according to one study –because they get such mild signs that they don’t think anything of it.

The study, which has not yet been reviewed by scientists, comes as more than 9,300 people around the world have died and more than 224,000 have been confirmed to be ill.

The death rate of coronavirus may be half that initially thought be world health chiefs, according to a study on Wuhan partients. Pictured, masked medical staff talking to a patient at Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on March 10

The preliminary findings come as the global death toll of COVID-19 nears 10,000, currently at 9,249, with more than 224,000 infected. A patient suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen in an intensive care unit at the Oglio Po hospital in Cremona, Italy

Death rates may not be directly comparable. For example, the UK’s rate is inflated because it only tests people in hospital, who are more likely to die, so the ratio of confirmed cases to deaths is smaller.

The study, led by Professor Joseph Wu of the University of Hong Kong, was focused on the city of Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were reported.

Professor Wu and colleagues from Harvard University used published data on 425 early confirmed cases and 41 fatalities in Wuhan.

But they wanted to get a bigger picture of how many people in the city, which is in the Hubei province, had the disease but showed no symptoms.

Hospitals had been overwhelmed in Wuhan and milder cases were unlikely to have been tested.

The team used a range of global data sources to estimate the full number of cases within Wuhan by taking into account the location and timing of cases outside of the area to work out how many people could be expected to have had it.

By studying real-life patients they found the average time from the start of symptoms – a fever or a cough – to death was 19 days, on average. It ranged between 16 and 24 days.

They worked out that the proportion of patients who died was 1.4 per cent, with a possible range from 0.8 per cent to two per cent.


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For those aged 15 to 64 years, the average fatality rate was 0.5 per cent, with a reasonable range of between 0.2 per cent and 1.3.

Over 64s had a fatality rate of 2.7 per cent, with low and high estimates of 1.5 per cent and 4.7 per cent.

The findings support what officials have known for a long time – that the elderly are more at risk of death from COVID-19.

However, it is significantly below earlier estimates of two to three per cent death rate which had been predicted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO released a statement on March 3 that said: ‘Globally, about 3.4 per cent of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than one per cent of those infected.’

It is also lower than the four per cent death rate which divides deaths in China (3,245) by confirmed cases (80,928).

However, Professor Wu and colleagues said their estimated death rate is still ‘concerning’.
The probability of dying from COVID-19 after developing symptoms was 1.4 per cent, as low as 0.8 per cent and as high as two per cent, the study in China found.

The probability of dying from COVID-19 after developing symptoms was 1.4 per cent, as low as 0.8 per cent and as high as two per cent, the study in China found. Pictured, workers stand next to coffins and remains of the coronavirus victims, in Bergamo, Italy, 18 March
‘For the general public, the overriding concern about uncertainty can breed fear, even panic,’ the authors wrote. Pictured, Workers stand next to coffins and remains of the coronavirus victims, in Bergamo, Italy, 18 March

Professor Wu and colleagues also believe in the worst case scenario, the ‘majority the population will be infected eventually’. Pictured, workers stand next to coffins and remains of the coronavirus victims, in Bergamo, Italy, 18 March


99 per cent of coronavirus deaths in Italy are patients with existing medical problems, a study by the country’s health service has found.

Research into 355 deaths found that only three of the victims, 0.8 per cent, had been clear of illnesses before they were infected.

Nearly half of them – 48.5 per cent – already had three or even more health conditions before they were diagnosed with Covid-19.

Another 25.6 per cent had two other ‘pathologies’, while 25.1 per cent had one.

The research by Italy’s National Institute of Health is consistent with previous findings that people with existing illnesses are more likely to die from coronavirus.

According to the study, the most common of these problems in Italy include high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

Some 76.1 per cent of the patients who died of Covid-19 had previously had problems with high arterial blood pressure, the study found.

More than a third – 35.5 per cent – had diabetes, while 33.0 per cent had suffered from ischemic heart disease.

Nearly a quarter, 24.5 per cent, had suffered from atrial fibrillation. Less common examples included dementia and liver disease.

Scientists have not yet established why people with high blood pressure are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. says it needs ‘more data to become available’ to investigate the link properly.

‘For the general public, the overriding concern about uncertainty can breed fear, even panic,’ the study authors wrote.

‘There is arguably no greater cause of such anxiety than the relative probability of death and disability caused by infection.

‘While our estimates of symptomatic case fatality risk are concerning, these could be reduced if effective antivirals were identified and widely adopted for treatment of severe cases.’

Outcomes are likely to be better still with measures to ‘flatten the curve’ of the epidemic. This involves slowing the spread of cases by suppressing the peak.

The strategy, adopted by the British Government, has the goal of reducing pressure on health services and bides time to find treatments and vaccines.

Professor Wu and colleagues also believe that in the worst case scenario, the ‘majority of the population will be infected eventually’.

This is based on the fact the virus has never been seen before, meaning no one has immunity to it, and there is currently no vaccine against it.

Unless, they say, drastic public health interventions are applied over prolonged periods ‘and/or vaccines become available sufficiently quickly’.

More realistically, they envision ‘at least a quarter to a half’ will be infected.

But extreme measures, such as closing schools, pubs and restaurants, cancelling sport events and urging social distancing, have been implemented globally following the lead of China.

Wuhan has been sealed off from the outside world since late January, when all citizens were put under a state-imposed lockdown.

Scientists have been scrambling to understand how the never-seen-before coronavirus behaves since it emerged just three months ago.

The authors of this study wrote: ‘The number of severe outcomes or deaths in the population is most strongly dependent on how ill an infected person is likely to become, and this question should be the focus of attention.’

The research team also claim that adults aged between 45 to 65 are three times more susceptible to infection than those aged between 15 and 44 years.

This jumps to 6.4 times in anyone over the age of 64.

But, if their research in Wuahn is anything to go by, only 0.3 per cent of cases will actually be officially recorded due to testing restrictions and asympomatic cases.

The team published the paper on March 13, and it has not been peer-reviewed by other academics yet.

The researchers noted, ‘our modelled estimates have necessarily relied on numerous strong assumptions’ – a variety of data sources were used which each have their own caveats.

The study was undertaken in early February, from which time the WHO has declared a global pandemic and countries have become shut off from one another.

Since then, Wuhan has turned a corner. Hopes were raised when the city reported no new cases for the first time, suggesting its strategies to contain the outbreak may have been successful.

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