- The death rate of coronavirus is roughly 3.4% worldwide, according to the WHO, but that number doesn’t fully capture how deadly the virus can be.
- Older people and those who have preexisting conditions seem to be much more likely to die from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
- Death rates also vary by country and will likely decrease as more cases are diagnosed.
- For the latest case totals, death tolls, and travel information, see Business Insider’s live coronavirus updates here.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 4,700 people, but it’s hard to measure just how deadly the virus is.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that the coronavirus kills about 3.4% of the people it infects. But that death rate varies between countries and across age groups. It’s also likely to change over time.
The death rate is a calculation of the number of known deaths out of the total number of confirmed cases. Because the disease progresses over a period of weeks, however, and because these numbers are constantly changing, the rate is not static and likely to continue evolving. It is not a reflection of the likelihood that any given person will die if infected.
Here’s everything we know about the coronavirus death rate.
In early March, the WHO reported a global death rate of 3.4% for the coronavirus.
Speaking at a media briefing, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that the death rate was far higher than that of the seasonal flu, which kills about 0.1% of those infected.
He added that COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, is a “more severe disease” than the seasonal flu. He explained that while people around the world may have built up an immunity to the flu over time, the newness of the COVID-19 meant no one yet has immunity and more people are susceptible to infection.
Like other viruses, COVID-19 doesn’t affect all patients equally.
The study collected data from more than 44,000 confirmed patients in China through February 11. It offers one of broadest depictions of how COVID-19 operates in humans.
The data suggests that a far higher portion of older people die from the disease than younger people. The study did not report any deaths in children younger than 10, who represented less than 1% of the patients.
Older people are also more likely to die of flu, though not to the same extent.
The coronavirus is more fatal than the flu across all age ranges, but especially among older people, according to the Chinese CDC study.
“This is a really serious problem that we have to take seriously,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, said during a House committee hearing on the coronavirus on Wednesday.
Preexisting conditions like heart disease or diabetes can also make coronavirus patients more susceptible to severe illness or death.
Overall, patients with preexisting conditions represented more than a third of all deaths reported in the Chinese CDC study. The death rate for patients who reported no underlying health problem was less than 1%.
The death rate varies by country, since different governments enact different intervention strategies and test their populations at different rates.
The death rates in all countries are constantly evolving as patients’ illnesses progress and as more people receive diagnoses.
The chart above shows death rates as of Friday. At that time, the US appeared to have a higher death rate than many countries with major outbreaks. But the number was primarily a product of limited testing in the country. As of Thursday in the US, 1,358 cases had been confirmed, 38 of which have resulted in death – a 2.8% death rate.
South Korea, has implemented free coronavirus-testing drive-thrus and tested more than 180,000 people. As of Thursday, the country had 66 deaths out of 7,869 cases, giving a death rate of 0.84%.
Still, older patients in South Korea also had a much higher death rate than younger ones. Patients older than 80 had a 7.2% death rate as of Wednesday.
While South Korea reported 2,718 cases among patients under 30 as of Wednesday, there were zero deaths from COVID-19 among those younger patients.
Even though South Korea’s overall death rate is low, it’s still far higher than that of the flu.
The overall death rate in the US from last year’s flu season was about 0.1% – that’s about 8.5 times lower than South Korea’s current COVID-19 death rate.
Still, the COVID-19 death rate is not as high as a handful of other major outbreaks.
The total number of cases and deaths have far surpassed those of the SARS outbreak, but the coronavirus hasn’t proven nearly as deadly.
Many health experts believe that the overall death rate will drop as more cases are reported.
That’s because an estimated 80% of coronavirus cases are mild, and patients checking into hospitals have the most severe symptoms. People with symptoms mild enough not to seek medical treatment aren’t counted in the official totals.
The true number of infected people is likely much higher than the reported total.
“There’s another whole cohort that is either asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic,” Fauci said at a briefing last month. “We’re going to see a diminution in the overall death rate.”
For these reasons, Fauci estimated the coronavirus’ mortality rate to be around 1% — which is still high compared to flu.
“People always say, well, the flu, you know, the flu does this, the flu does that. The flu has a mortality of 0.1%. This has a mortality of 10 times that. And that’s the reason why I want to emphasise, we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this,” Fauci said in the House hearing.
The death rate of a disease is different from its mortality rate – the latter is the number of deaths out of the number of people in an at-risk population.
Even with its low mortality rate, the flu takes a significant toll. During the 2018-19 flu season, about 35 million people in the US contracted the flu and about 34,000 died. This flu season, an estimated 32 million people have gotten the flu, with 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths.
Seasonal flu is endemic — meaning permanently present — in the human population. That could happen with this coronavirus, too.
But officials say that’s no reason to stop trying to contain the outbreak.
“If this was an influenza epidemic, we would have expected to see widespread community transmission across the globe by now, and efforts to slow it down or contain it would not be feasible,” Tedros said in a briefing last week. “But containment of COVID-19 is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.”
Aria Bendix, Aylin Woodward, Andy Kiersz, and Rosie Perper contributed reporting.
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