Thursday, March 05, 2020

Fatalities from COVID-19 overwhelmingly among the elderly

I heard yesterday that the average age of South Koreans who have died from the COVID-19 coronavirus is around 80, so I got to wondering about the overall age profile of those who die from the virus outbreak. The answer it turns out is "old".
The best data I could find shows that the likelihood of death ramps up exponentially as age increases. So, while those in their teens, twenties and thirties have a death rate of just 0.2%, those in their forties increases to 0.4%, fifties 2.3%, sixties 3.6%, seventies 8%, and eighties-plus a whopping 14.8%. Interestingly, no deaths have been reported in children under 10, who make up just 1% of confirmed cases. And, although the overall death rate is 3.4% (higher than earlier estimates of around 2%), the rate among those confirmed cases who have no pre-existing health problems or chronic illness is just 1%. The fatality rates may actually be even lower than these figures suggest, as they rely on the numbers of reported and confirmed cases. Also, within these figures is a lot of variation - the death rate in Italy, for instance, may be over 7%, possibly due to Italy's age profile.
Compare this with a fatality rate for ebola (1976 outbreak) of about 40%, nipah (1998) 78%, SARS (2002) 10%, and MERS (2012) 34%, and suddenly COVID-19 doesn't seem so bad. For comparison, the fatality rate for influenza is around 1%, again mainly among the very old and those with pre-existing conditions. With COVID-19, at least 80% of cases are mild. Unpleasant, but not life-threatening.

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