Dr. John Lee Weighs in on the COVIDIOT Statistics

Via The Spectator

Every day, now, we are seeing figures for ‘COVID deaths’. These numbers are often expressed on graphs showing an exponential rise. But care must be taken when reading (and reporting) these figures. Given the extraordinary response to the emergence of this virus, it’s vital to have a clear-eyed view of its progress and what the figures mean. The world of disease reporting has its own dynamics, ones that are worth understanding. How accurate, or comparable, are these figures comparing COVID-19 deaths in various countries?

We often see a ratio expressed: deaths, as a proportion of cases. The figure is taken as a sign of how lethal COVID-19 is, but the ratios vary wildly. In the US, 1.8 percent (2,191 deaths in 124,686 confirmed cases), Italy 10.8 percent, Spain 8.2 percent, Germany 0.8 percent, France 6.1 percent, UK 6.0 percent. A 15-fold difference in death rate for the same disease seems odd among such similar countries: all developed, all with good healthcare systems. All tackling the same disease.

You might think it would be easy to calculate death rates. Death is a stark and easy-to-measure end point. In my working life (I’m a retired pathology professor) I usually come across studies that express it comparably and as a ratio: the number of deaths in a given period of time in an area, divided by that area’s population. For example, 10 deaths per 1,000 population per year. So just three numbers:

  1. The population who have contracted the disease
  2. The number dying of disease
  3. The relevant time period

The trouble is that in the COVID-19 crisis each one of these numbers is unclear.

……Why COVID-19 deaths are a substantial over-estimate

Next, what about the deaths? Many UK health spokespersons have been careful to repeatedly say that the numbers quoted in the UK indicate death with the virus, not death due to the virus — this matters. When giving evidence in parliament a few days ago, Prof. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London said that he now expects fewer than 20,000 COVID-19 deaths in the UK but, importantly, two-thirds of these people would have died anyway. In other words, he suggests that the crude figure for ‘COVID deaths’ is three times higher than the number who have actually been killed by COVID-19. (Even the two-thirds figure is an estimate — it would not surprise me if the real proportion is higher.)

This nuance is crucial ­— not just in understanding the disease, but for understanding the burden it might place on the health service in coming days. Unfortunately nuance tends to be lost in the numbers quoted from the database being used to track COVID-19: the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. It has compiled a huge database, with COVID-19 data from all over the world, updated daily — and its figures are used, world over, to track the virus. This data is not standardized and so probably not comparable, yet this important caveat is seldom expressed by the (many) graphs we see. It risks exaggerating the quality of data that we have.

The distinction between dying ‘with’ COVID-19 and dying ‘due to’ COVID-19 is not just splitting hairs. Consider some examples: an 87-year-old woman with dementia in a nursing home; a 79-year-old man with metastatic bladder cancer; a 29-year-old man with leukemia treated with chemotherapy; a 46-year-old woman with motor neurone disease for two years. All develop chest infections and die. All test positive for COVID-19. Yet all were vulnerable to death by chest infection from any infective cause (including the flu). COVID-19 might have been the final straw, but it has not caused their deaths. Consider two more cases: a 75-year-old man with mild heart failure and bronchitis; a 35-year-old woman who was previously fit and well with no known medical conditions. Both contract a chest infection and die, and both test positive for COVID-19. In the first case it is not entirely clear what weight to place on the pre-existing conditions versus the viral infection — to make this judgement would require an expert clinician to examine the case notes. The final case would reasonably be attributed to death caused by COVID-19, assuming it was true that there were no underlying conditions.

John Lee is a recently retired professor of pathology and a former NHS consultant pathologist. This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.

After 39-year-old Natasha Ott was found dead on her kitchen floor while awaiting her coronavirus test results, the media screamed and ran sensational headlines slamming President Trump. Turns out the coronvirus test came back negative and she had been suffering for the last TWO years from an undiagnosed intestinal condition but her boyfriend lied and said she was perfectly healthy.

Much of the dire predictions and numbers of fatalities are driven by media-stoked hysteria.

I am sticking to my normal routine. I go to the store, visit friends, and go out and about as I wish.

When this all blows over in a couple of weeks, we can have a good laugh over the feverish dread and the stampedes for toilet paper. Until then, I’m going to live a normal life without all this manufactured anxiety.

Related posts:



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Wordpress Social Share Plugin powered by Ultimatelysocial