Although still deadly, data shows the fatality rate of Covid-19 virus maintains a downward trend

Dec 24, 2020

Data on Covid-19 deaths has changed drastically since the beginning of the year, when the virus emerged as a major international health threat. Early estimates of Covid death rates by the World Health Organization and Chinese health officials, put the rate between 3.4 percent and 6.4 percent.

A Covid-19 patient is treated in Los Angeles.

Since then, the rate has changed dramatically and continues to be adjusted, almost always downward.

As of early December, the case fatality rate is probably closer to 1%, according to Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Adalja makes the point, however, that those tested and confirmed to have the disease, are more likely to have serious symptoms while many of those infected show no symptoms at all.

Adalja estimates the infection fatality rate, which estimates how likely someone is to die based on both confirmed and unconfirmed COVID cases, is lower — around 0.5 or 0.6%. That number depends on how good the Covid testing is, Adalja said.

Adalja noted that it’s essential to know the contributing factors leading to Covid deaths.

“Covid-19 may be the main cause of death, which was complicated by diabetes, complicated by hypertension,” he said. “And all of those deaths need to be counted because they do represent the true toll and the true impact of the pandemic,” he says.

He added that contributing factors are critical to know when analyzing who should be prioritized in Covid vaccine distribution, he said.

Other researchers project an even lower Covid fatality rate. In an October study published by the World Health Organization, Stanford University Professor John Ioannidis estimated that the death rate was closer to 0.05%. According to the Daily Mail, for healthy people under age 70, that would be one in 2,000 people.

According to an article in The Conversation by Monica Gandhi, practicing infection disease doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, several researchers suggest that the lower death rates stem from improved treatments. One study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine shows the chance of death for a hospitalized patient dropped from 25.6% in March to 7.6% in August.

The discovery in recent weeks of more contagious variants of the Covid virus in Great Britain and South Africa have not changed fatality rate projections, experts say. “These strains maintain the same risks in terms of intensity of illness and fatality rate as other strains,” Adalja says.
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Credit: Journal of Hospital Medicine blog

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