Why the Covid-19 Death Rate might be misleading

The latest figures show that 6% of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 die of the disease.

A 6% death rate, and only a 94% survival rate, I don’t fancy those odds!

However, writing in The Spectator, Dr John Lee points out that these death rates may be misleading, and that Covid-19 is possibly no more deadly than the flu, something we are all familiar with and which has a death rate of 0.1%

So far, relatively few people have been tested for Covid-19, and those that have are probably those displaying the most serious symptoms who have presented themselves at a hospital, or they’ve been tested because they were already in hospital, which means they’re likely to be more susceptible to infection because of being in sub-optimal health.

In short, the type of people already tested for Covid-19 are probably not representative of the wider population!

It could be the case, as has been suggested by Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific Adviser, that the actual infection rate is 10 to 20 times higher in the general population with most people displaying only minor symptoms, not getting tested and recovering without us ever knowing about it!

If it were the case that the real infection rate is 20* higher then the actual death rate would be nearer 0.3%, which is in the same realms as the flu.

Furthermore, Covid-19 has now been added to the list of ‘notifeable diseases’ (along with Smallpox and Ebola and other nasties), which means that anytime someone dies having contracted Covid-19, it must be recorded as the cause of death.

This isn’t the case with flu, so while someone in their 80s may well die of it, this may not be recorded as the actual cause of death.

Thus overall, while Covid-19 may be more infectious than the flu, it may not be more deadly!

Ultimately we need more testing for the virus to be done to get a more valid picture of how deadly it is.

Managing risk in an age of uncertainty

Having said that, even if the real death rate may be lower than reported, the extreme contagiousness of Covid-19 has still led to a rapid increase in the number of critical cases and deaths in a short period (as I understand it flu isn’t as contagious, so there simply aren’t as many people who catch it such a short period of time), so the extreme control measures we’ve put in place may just be worth it!

It may sound cold, but this is a great example of managing a threat in a risk society where we have limited available data.

NB – it’s worth pointing out that you have much less chance of dying from it if you’re young compared to if you’re old:!

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