A new study by the medical journal the Lancet Infectious Diseases shows that while COVID-19 is significantly deadlier than the flu, the death rate for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is lower than has been previously reported, according to CNN.
At the beginning of March, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 death rate was 3.4%, although there was wide expectation that the actual rate was lower due to the number of people who were asymptomatic or suffering only mild symptoms.
What did they find? The study in the Lancet attempted to account for people with COVID-19 who who were mild or asymptomatic cases. Most reported death rates only account for confirmed cases. Using that methodology, they found a death rate of 0.66% for COVID-19. The number goes up to 1.38% when accounting for only confirmed cases. Here’s how they did it, CNN reported:
In this study, researchers tried to estimate the true “infection fatality rate.” In other words, out of everybody infected — not just those sick enough to get tested — how many people will die?
To find out, researchers looked at how widespread infections were among people repatriated to their home countries on flights from Wuhan, China.
According to the study, these people received PCR tests — a type of test that would be able to identify how many of those travelers were shedding the virus, even if they didn’t show symptoms.
The death rate the study found for people 80 years of age and older was 7.8%, but the death rate didn’t exceed 0.16% for any age group under 40 years old. And for children 9 years old and younger, the death rate was only 0.00161%.
The death rate for the flu is estimated at 0.1%.
The takeaway: There have been stories of otherwise healthy young or middle-age people getting severely sick from the coronavirus, but the outsized media attention those cases get can make them appear more common than they are.
“There might be outlying cases that get a lot of media attention, but our analysis very clearly shows that at aged 50 and over, hospitalization is much more likely than in those under 50, and a greater proportion of cases are likely to be fatal,” said Azra Ghani, a professor at Imperial College London and an author of the study.