In 2019, a coronavirus outbreak emerged in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. It quickly spread to other parts from China and now, seems to be proliferating in multiple parts of the world.
A recently published analysis of 72,314 patient records from Hubei shows important statistics about the case incidence and fatality.
While the figures come from the Hubei province only, they are the most up-to-date standardized information we have at this point and can offer valuable insights.
Who gets infected
Age-wise, Covid-19 seems to follow a general population trend, with one big exception: children. Researchers aren’t sure why, but children and babies seem almost immune to the disease. Otherwise, anyone can get infected, regardless of age.
Gender-wise, there seems to be almost no disparity (and the disparity might rather be explained by social factors). However, as we will see a bit later, while everyone seems to be affected equally (aside from children), not everyone suffers equally.
Most Cases are Mild
The good news is that the vast majority of cases are mild: 4 out of 5 cases are mild, comparable to a flu, or like a common cold. Another 14% have been severe, and less than 5% were critical. All of the 1,023 fatalities in this analysis were from people in the critical category.
But this doesn’t nearly tell the whole story. If we want to look at things closely and really understand who is most threatened by Covid-19, we need to look at age distribution and the presence of one or more additional co-occurring conditions.
Dangerous for the elderly
Most of the people who are really sick are between the age of 50 and 90. When it comes to the fatality rate, things get skewed with age, indicating that it is the elderly that are most at risk from Covid-19.
If we look at the total number of fatalities, we get an even clearer picture: 80% of all fatalities are in people over 60, and 93% in people over 50.
This is significant in multiple ways. For starters, it highlights that the elderly are the most vulnerable in this epidemic. This doesn’t mean that if you’re younger, you shouldn’t care — on the contrary. The best way to protect the elderly is to make sure to prevent the disease from spreading as much as possible. In other words, if you want to keep your parents and grandparents healthy, the best thing to do is to stay healthy yourself.
Perhaps even more significantly, it suggests that even if the fatality rate turns out to be much lower because many individuals exhibit mild symptoms, it might not necessarily be a good thing. If those exhibiting mild symptoms are healthy, young people, the risk is the same, because it is disproportionately skewed towards the elderly. A lower fatality rate is good news, but it might not be as good as we think.
In addition to age, comorbidity (the presence of one or more additional conditions) is also likely a significant factor. Essentially, those with a compromised immune system are more at risk.
However, this is still preliminary data, and is hard to interpret. It’s unclear how much a comorbid condition increases fatality rate as this must be separated from age and other factors, which was not done with this dataset.
The bottom line
The figures from the recently-published study offer the best insights we have so far on the disease.
This is still an ongoing situation, and the number may turn out to be way off, one way or the other. Estimates for the overall fatality vary wildly, and it’s still impossible to say just what the outbreak will look like in the end.
China deployed severe containment measures and spent massive resources to address the disease. Countries with less resourceful or efficient healthcare systems will likely struggle to achieve the same containment and treatment success.
At the same time, impoverished areas, elderly people, and those immunocompromised are at a higher risk (as is the case with almost all infections).
What you can do
Yes — you’ve heard this one before, but washing your hands really is crucial. Here’s what else you can do to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus:
- stay home if you are feeling ill at all, and contact the authorities (don’t travel to your doctor);
- practice social distancing — avoid events with large groups of people (concerts, sports events), work from home if your employer allows it;
- cover coughs and sneezes in a tissue (and dispose of it immediately) or in your elbow;
- avoid touching your face with unwashed hands;
- disinfect frequently touched surfaces (phone, doorknobs, etc);
- clean your room;
- don’t panic.
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