(Reuters) – The number of deaths from Covid-19 in the world has reached one million, but experts are still struggling to find an important metric in the epidemic: the death rate – the percentage of people infected with the virus who die.
Here’s a look at the issues surrounding a better understanding of the COVID-19 death rate.
How is the death rate calculated?
The real death rate will compare deaths with the total number of infections, a denominator that remains unknown because the full range of asymptomatic cases is difficult to measure. Many people who become infected simply do not experience symptoms.
The scientists said the total number of infections is significantly higher than the current number of confirmed cases, and it is now 33 million cases globally. Many experts believe that the Coronavirus will likely kill 0.5% to 1% of those infected, making it a very dangerous virus globally until a vaccine is recognized.
Researchers are beginning to classify this risk by age group, as evidence is mounting that young people and children are less likely to develop severe disease.
The death rate for people under the age of 20 is likely to be 1 in 10,000. “If you are over the age of 85, it is about one in every 6 years,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.
What is the “case fatality rate”?
There was a clear drop in death rates when measured against the number of new infections confirmed by coronavirus testing. In places like the United States, the “case fatality rate” has dropped dramatically from 6.6% in April to just over 2% in August, according to a Reuters tally.
But experts said the decline was largely driven by more widespread testing compared to the early days of the pandemic, as more people were detected with mild disease or had no symptoms. Improvements in treating the critically ill and protecting some of the most vulnerable are also attributed to improved survival.
“We are more aware of potential complications and how to recognize them and treat them,” said Dr. Amish Adalja of the Johns Hopkins University Health Security Center in Baltimore. “If you are a patient who has contracted COVID-19 in 2020, you’d rather have it now than in March.”
What does this mean for individuals and governments?
This highlights the need for continued vigilance, as some countries begin to experience a second wave of infections.
For example, researchers in France estimate that the case fatality rate in this country decreased by 46% by the end of July compared to the end of May, driven by an increase in testing and improvement in medical care and a greater proportion of infections occurring in young people, who are less likely to have severe disease.
“Now, we are seeing a new spike in hospital admissions and ICU registrations, which means that this discrepancy is about to end,” said Mercia Sofonia, a researcher at the University of Montpellier in France. “We have to understand why.”
(Reporting by Dina Paisley) Co-reporting by Matthias Belmont in Paris. Edited by Will Dunham
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