Story at a glance
- Previous estimates ranged roughly from 2 to 3.4 percent.
- The study attempts to account for milder or asymptomatic cases that go undiagnosed.
- Researchers say the coronavirus is still significantly deadlier than the seasonal flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent.
A new study that accounts for milder cases of the novel coronavirus that previously went undiagnosed claims the virus may not be as deadly as some early estimates.
The study published Monday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal estimates that about 0.66 percent of patients who become infected with the virus will die. When undetected infections aren’t taken into account, researchers found the coronavirus death rate was 1.38 percent.
That number is more consistent with previous estimates from health officials. In early March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said the virus was 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu, with a 2 percent mortality rate. He did emphasize, however, that the number could drop depending on “what the factor of asymptomatic cases are.”
Fauci’s comments came just one day after the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said about 3.4 percent of confirmed cases had been fatal.
Researchers in this study attempted to estimate the true infection fatality rate, as current death rates typically only consider reported coronavirus cases, which are generally more severe.
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Researchers used modeling based on the number of detected cases among repatriated citizens from Wuhan, China, who were aggressively tested for the virus. Those people received tests that would be able to identify if they were shedding the virus, even if they didn’t show symptoms. Researchers then combined that data with public information on reported cases and deaths, estimating the death rate to be about two-thirds of 1 percent.
The study found the mortality rate dramatically increased in older adults, with about 7.8 percent of patients 80 or older estimated to die after infection.
“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 those under 50, and a greater proportion of cases are likely to be fatal,” Azra Ghani, a professor at Imperial College London and an author of the study, said in a statement.
Researchers noted the mortality rate for the novel coronavirus is still significantly higher than the seasonal flu, which has a death rate of 0.1 percent of cases.
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