A study based on the initial onslaught of coronavirus cases in China shows that the virus infecting people around the globe appears to be selective in who it kills.
Data analyzed by the health news website STAT, based upon Chinese accounts of the demographic conditions of those infected, shows a clear pattern in who was simply infected and who suffered serious consequences.
STAT’s analysis was based on the 72,314 people in China who were reported infected as of Feb. 11.
The Chinese data showed that 87 percent of those infected were between the ages of 30 and 79. Meanwhile, 0.9 percent were 9 years old or younger, 1.2 percent were in their teens and 8.1 percent were in their 20s.
The fatality rate — the number who died as a percentage of the overall number infected — also skewed toward the elderly.
“But the fatality rate was 14.8% in people 80 or older, likely reflecting the presence of other diseases, a weaker immune system, or simply worse overall health. By contrast, the fatality rate was 1.3% in 50-somethings, 0.4% in 40-somethings, and 0.2% in people 10 to 39,” STAT reported.
The report pointed out that a World Health Organization mission to China noted that as of mid-January, no children in Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, had the virus. Across China, young people aged 10 to 19 were only 1.2 percent of those infected, the report said.
“Poorer outcomes in older people may be due, in part, to the age-related weakening of the immune system and increased inflammation that could promote viral replication and more prolonged responses to inflammation, causing lasting damage to the heart, brain and other organs,” said Zhibo Liu of Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, who reported on a study showing that the impact in China was hardest on the elderly, according to New Scientist.
Older adults and people of all ages with severe chronic medical conditions are more likely to develop serious outcomes, including death, if infected with #COVID19. See CDC guidance for people who are at higher risk for serious illness: https://t.co/SlDrVXXfCz. pic.twitter.com/ecV4Uly1JH
— CDC (@CDCgov) March 9, 2020
As the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to #COVID19; it’s likely many will become sick but most people likely will have mild illness. https://t.co/SlDrVXXfCz
— CDC (@CDCgov) March 9, 2020
I am closely monitoring the spread of Coronavirus as it continues to make its impact. It is important to remember that you can take individual precautions to prevent the spread of illness. For more updates on Coronavirus, visit the CDC website here: https://t.co/mvnsK2M8Qe pic.twitter.com/umCU2w7HTa
— Rep. Elise Stefanik (@RepStefanik) March 2, 2020
Although all experts stress prevention and precaution, they also suggest that hard data, and not fears, should drive policy.
“Kids and adults have done extremely well in terms of recovery so far,” Dr. Jeremy Faust of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston told ABC News.
“It’s so critical that we do not waste resources among the young and healthy and that we really focus on the areas where this might really get out of control.”
Faust said when he investigated a published death rate, he found much to doubt.
“What I was able to find by looking at a few other data sources, rather than just the big flashy numbers, was that there’s actually a lot of reason to be reassured that the numbers are a lot lower,” Faust said.
“If you get to people over 70, we’re going to have much higher fatality rates,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told ABC.
“There’s a large epidemic of coronavirus anxiety,” Schaffner said.
“I think [people] ought to take a deep breath and spend a little more time planning what to do if the coronavirus really came into their community and they had to undergo what we call social distancing, which is separating themselves from other people. If you do this now when you’re more calm, it works much better when you really have to apply it rather than planning in a more anxious moment later on.”
Schaffner said the elderly “accumulate a whole lot of underlying illnesses, which adds to their risk. They have heart disease, diabetes, lung disease.”
“Some of these people, particularly from China, have lived in polluted environments their whole life. Some of the men, especially, have been lifetime smokers. So they are at very increased risk of severe disease.”
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