A study on the evolving coronavirus crisis brings good news: A death rate that's much lower than prior estimates.
The report out of China now sets the overall death rate in symptomatic cases from Covid-19 disease at 1.4% – much lower than the 3.4% death rate supplied earlier in the pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
That puts the Covid-19 death rate significantly below that of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the report's authors said, but higher than that seen in the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak.
Researchers led by epidemiologist Joseph Wu, of the University of Hong Kong, analysed data from the area around Wuhan, the Chinese city where the pandemic began.
Improvements in hospital care
Looking at data on more than 79 000 cases and almost 2 900 deaths in the region up until 29 February, the researchers confirmed that the odds for death rose with age.
For example, compared to Covid-19 patients with symptomatic disease between the ages of 30 and 59, patients aged 60 and older were more than five times more likely to die from the illness, according to the report published on 19 March in Nature Medicine.
On the other end of the spectrum, patients younger than 30 were 40% less likely to die than patients aged 30 to 59, the study authors said.
Wu's team believes that much of the credit for a lowering of the death rate stems from improvements in hospital care in Wuhan.
As health care personnel gained more experience managing Covid-19 cases, that "would presumably lead to fewer deaths, all else being equal", the study authors wrote.
'Those strategies work'
Most importantly, they explained, "Public health control measures widely imposed in China since the Wuhan alert have also kept case numbers down elsewhere, so that their health systems are not nearly as overwhelmed beyond surge capacity, thus again perhaps leading to better outcomes."
That thinking – that preventing new infections "flattens the curve" of new cases, helping hospitals cope–- is the main driver behind current US efforts to at least temporarily limit social contacts between people.
China's experience may already be showing that those strategies work.
On Wednesday, health officials announced that for the first time since the pandemic began, there were no new cases of coronavirus infection in China. Experts caution, however, that a full 14 days of no new cases must elapse before the epidemic in China can be declared over.
As of Thursday, total US cases of coronavirus infection passed 9 000, with 149 deaths recorded. As of Tuesday, the WHO had reported nearly 208 000 cases of coronavirus across 166 countries and territories, including over 8 600 deaths.
Image credit: iStock