- The coronavirus outbreak that started in China is now spreading around the world. More than 3,100 people have died.
- The WHO confirmed on Tuesday that the virus’ fatality rate is around 3.4%, but health experts predict it could ultimately be lower as more cases are reported.
- For the latest case total, death toll, and travel information, see Business Insider’s live updates here.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The coronavirus outbreak that started in December has killed more than 3,000 people.
Nearly 93,000 people have gotten sick across 77 countries, though 87% of cases are in China. (For the latest case total and death toll, see Business Insider’s live updates here.)
The new disease, called COVID-19, has a fatality rate of around 3.4%, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed on Tuesday. That’s an uptick from previous estimates – a recent study from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found a fatality rate of 2.3% among more than 44,000 confirmed coronavirus patients.
The fatality rate is still changing as more cases are confirmed, however. Some health experts predict that it could decrease as the number of cases rises, since the people who are checking into hospitals have the most severe symptoms.
“There’s another whole cohort that is either asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a February 6 briefing. “We’re going to see a diminution in the overall death rate.”
The real fatality rate could be lower
The coronavirus’ fatality rate looks different depending on how you slice it. Most of the cases so far are in China’s Hubei province. The fatality rate there is slightly higher than the global figure: around 4%.
The Chinese CDC found that patients ages 80 and older have a much higher fatality rate than the rest of the population: nearly 15%. Patients with at least one other chronic disease, in addition to COVID-19, had a fatality rate of 10.5%.
But many unknowns remain, since many patients are still being treated in hospitals and new cases are reported daily.
The virus also continues to spread in countries outside of China, including South Korea, Italy, and Iran. The number of new cases reported beyond China now exceeds the number of new cases reported in China, where the outbreak appears to be tapering off.
A peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet estimated that an infected person could pass the virus to two to three others, on average.
But not all severely infected patients die, of course. About half of the critical patients in the Chinese CDC study survived.
The majority of people who’ve died were elderly or had other preexisting health issues
So far, COVID-19 is far less deadly than SARS, which is also a coronavirus and had a fatality rate of 9.6% during the 2002-2003 outbreak.
Fauci said the coronavirus could wind up looking more like a pandemic flu than like SARS in terms of its fatality rate. SARS and the new coronavirus share around 80% of their genetic codes, but the coronavirus family also includes pneumonia and the common cold.
The worst pandemic flu, the 1918 Spanish influenza, had about the same fatality rate as the coronavirus right now. Other pandemic flues have been less deadly, Fauci said, with fatality rates between 0.8% and 1.2%.
The normal seasonal flu, he added, has a fatality rate of around 0.1%. This year’s strain is even less deadly so far, with a fatality rate of 0.05%, according to the CDC.
Thus far, the majority of people who have died from the new coronavirus have been elderly patients or those with preexisting health problems. A recent JAMA study of found that the median age of a COVID-19 patient was between 49 and 56 years old. Chinese authorities have reported that most cases in China are among those ages 60 and older.
A study published in January speculated that “children might be less likely to become infected or, if infected, may show milder symptoms” than adults.
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