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Major study of Covid-19 cases in China finds lower death rate than previous estimates

A study of over 70,000 cases of Covid-19 in China has determined a death rate from the virus of 1.38%.

An illustration of the virus created at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An illustration of the virus created at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

A STUDY OF over 70,000 cases of Covid-19 in China has determined a death rate from the virus at 1.38%, lower than previous estimates.

The study also outlines that the hospitalisation rate for the virus increases greatly with age but that, without intervention, the coronavirus would “overwhelm even the most advanced healthcare systems worldwide”. 

Nearly one in five over-80s infected with Covid -19 are likely to require hospitalisation, compared with around 1% of people under 30, according to the study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

Differences in hospitalisation rates are observed across all age groups, with 11.8% of people in their 60s, 16.6% of people in their 70s, and 18.4% of those in their 80s and above estimated to develop symptoms severe enough for hospitalisation. 

In Ireland, the latest figures record that persons over 65 years old represented 44.1% of all hospitalisations and 88% of those who have died. 

The new analysis of the cases in China also finds a strong correlation between higher death rates and age. 

The estimates are slightly lower than others that have been made for the virus, but are still much higher than for previous outbreaks such as the 2009 swine flu pandemic, which was estimated to be fatal in around 0.02% of cases. 

This study has estimated the death rate for confirmed cases Covid-19 at 1.38%, while the overall death rate, which includes unconfirmed cases, is estimated at 0.66%. 

These rates are slightly lower than some estimates for Covid-19 to date, which have ranged from 2% to 8%. 

The study concludes that past estimates had not adjusted for the fact that only people with more severe symptoms are likely to be tested. Nor did they take account of people being in quarantine following repatriation to other countries. 

This meant they did not reflect the true number of cases across populations. 

unnamed Source: thelancet.com

Hospitalisation

The authors warn that because 50% to 80% of the global population could become infected with the virus, the number of people needing hospital treatment would likely overwhelm most healthcare systems.

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However, they caution that it is possible that outcomes could improve, in which case it will be important to revise the estimates in this study.

“This study provides critical estimates on the proportion of people requiring hospitalisation which, when applied to the UK population, enabled us to get a handle on how many people might need to access NHS services,” Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London said of the research. 

“As the UK epidemic unfolds, more data are becoming available, and at the moment the proportion of people in each age group most likely to require hospitalisation, and most likely to die from infection, are consistent with the estimates in this study.”

The authors of the study also note that they are unable to adjust for the effect on the prognosis of underlying health conditions until individual-level data become available but add that underlying conditions are likely to be correlated with age.

Such conditions will also vary geographically, particularly between low-income and high-income regions and countries.

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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