Less than 1% Of All Infected Individuals May Die From COVID-19, But Easy Transmissibility Makes The Virus Dangerous, Says WHO
WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove

‘’Less than 1%” of infected individuals die from the coronavirus according to the World Health Organization, marking the first time the agency has reported an ‘infection fatality rate’ for the general population. The virus is easily spread and more deadly in older people, making it a threat.

The remarks by WHO’s experts came just a few days after WHO’s Emergency Committee warned that countries should be preparing to deal with the pandemic in “the long term,” after meeting for the third time this year to determine the status of the pandemic. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared that COVID-19 still constituted a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). 

WHO has cited a more commonly used case-fatality rate – the proportion of deaths among reported cases – of 3.4% based on a February report from China. The infection fatality rate, in contrast, is an estimate of the proportion of deaths in all those infected, including unreported cases. 

Easily Transmissible Viruses Can Kill Many People Despite Low Infection Fatality Rate

And despite the lower infection fatality rate estimate, 1% is still fairly high in such a prolific virus, and the IFR is even higher in older people or those with chronic conditions, warned WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove. 

“Right now, it’s tough to estimate the COVID infection fatality rate (IFR), but current estimates hover between 0.6-1% [varying by age],” said Van Kerkhove, referring to a Lancet study from early June. “That may not sound like a lot, but it is quite high [given] the virus can transmit readily.”

Over the past three months, COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed by a factor of five to 17.5 million, and the number of deaths has tripled to 680,000, added Dr Tedros. And there is evidence the virus may even cause long lasting respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological problems in those who survive.

“Everyone is feeling the fatigue of this pandemic, but we have a long way to go”, said Van Kerkhove.  We need to remain focused, we need to remain strong, we need to accept that this is challenging” and take advantage of the pandemic to build back better.

WHO Cites COVID-19 Infection Fatality Rate Estimate For The First Time  

Monday marked the first time WHO officially referred to the infection fatality rate (IFR) of  COVID-19, with an estimate ranging between 0.6 and 1%.

The infection fatality rate – often called the ‘true’ fatality rate – is tricky to determine during an outbreak, as it relies on understanding how many people in total are infected with a disease. Usually, the IFR can only be estimated after large seroprevalence surveys are done post-outbreak to measure the true extent of a diseases’ spread. 

As a result, the simpler ‘case fatality ratio’ is more commonly used to measure death rates as it relies on the number of reported cases, rather than the total number of infected people. However, the case fatality ratio usually overestimates the ‘true’ death rate, as it usually does not take into account unreported infections, such as those that may be asymptomatic or too mild to be detected.

The US Centers for Disease Control has estimated that up to 40% of all COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, in their pandemic planning scenario guidelines.

Image Credits: WHO.

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