Biologist: even optimists admit that СOVID-19 is much more dangerous than seasonal flu
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Biologist: even optimists admit that СOVID-19 is much more dangerous than seasonal flu

29 April , 11:34
In addition to the high mortality of the coronavirus itself, an increase in deaths occurs due to the increased load on health systems that are not ready for such a number of patients

As a pandemic develops around the world, the quantity of the so-called “viral dissidents,” denying its danger, doesn't become less. To promote their ideas, they take advantage of the general confusion, including in the scientific community. That is why the well-known Russian biologist and popularizer of science, Alexander Panchin, collected and published scientific data on the pandemic in order to clearly demonstrate the danger it poses to humanity:

“Now the scientific community is debating about how dangerous SARS-CoV-2 is. The problem is that there is still no final assessment of the mortality of the coronavirus. There are several problems in calculating this value.

Firstly, from infection to death, an average of more than two weeks passes. Therefore, you can’t just take and divide the number of deaths by the number of infected. So we underestimate the total proportion of infected people who die.

Secondly, we do not know the proportion of infected people. Not all infected have been tested. So, we can overestimate the danger of the virus.

Thirdly, coronavirus kills not only directly, but also indirectly, creating an increased burden on the healthcare system. As a result, patients who need medical care due to other diseases may not receive it in a timely manner: hospitals are overloaded, doctors get sick, operations are postponed, and so on.

For example, the article “Estimating Risk for Death from 2019 Novel Coronavirus Disease, China, January – February 2020” notes that the probability of death for a coronavirus infected person reached 12% at the epicenter of the Wuhan epidemic, but was closer to 1% in places where the infection affected to a lesser extent. Assessing the danger of the virus and making decisions about quarantine or self-isolation, do we want to take into account indirect deaths or not?

Fourth, we can underestimate the absolute number of deaths from coronavirus. The article “36,000 Missing Deaths: Tracking the True Toll of the Coronavirus Crisis” in The New York Times compares the number of deaths in different countries compared to previous years. During the last month in Paris, twice as many people died per day than on the same dates of past years. Four times more in New York. The number of excess deaths significantly exceeds the official number of deaths from coronavirus. For example, in Ecuador, from March 1 to April 15, 7600 more people died than usual, but the number of officially killed by coronavirus was only 503 during this period.

Perhaps not all excess deaths are directly caused by the coronavirus, but some of the victims may not have been diagnosed.

On April 18, in the article “An empirical estimate of the infection fatality rate of COVID-19 from the first Italian outbreak”, a similar analysis was published for the first infected cities in Italy, where there is a very high proportion of patients with coronavirus. The authors compared total mortality both between 2020 and previous years, and immediately before and after the discovery of the first patient. The picture is a graph from this article. It can be seen that mortality jumped several times.

On the other hand, as I already noted, the hope that the coronavirus is still not so dangerous is given by the results of random random screening of people for coronavirus. Their conclusion: more people are sick than officially established, although in different countries the error is different. Therefore, mortality may be lower.

The meaning of such studies is understandable: if we understand the proportion of infected people well, then we can more accurately assess the lethality of the virus. Alas, problems arise here too.

Today, Science published the article "First antibody surveys draw fire for quality, bias." Among other things, it discusses the analysis conducted by the scientist Hendrick Strick from the University of Bonn in Germany. Shtriyk found antibodies to the new coronavirus in 14% of 500 people in the small town of Heinsberg. From these data and the number of deaths, it followed that 0.37% of those infected died in Heinsberg.

On the one hand, this indicator is still 4 times higher than for seasonal flu, and on the other hand, significantly lower than earlier estimates. For example, the article “Estimates of the severity of coronavirus disease 2019: a model-based analysis” in The Lancet provides a calculation of 3.67% - the death toll from the number of infected in China, which drops to 1.38% after adjusting for demographic factors.

According to Science, with the analysis of Shtrik several problems were identified, in addition to the fact that the results have not yet been published, but are already being discussed at press conferences and in the media. In particular, doubts arose about the reliability of the tests performed: in one of the checks, the false positive rate of the used coronavirus test was 4%. That is, actually out of 500 there could be not 70 infected, but 50, 1.4 times less. There are doubts about the specificity of other similar tests, as well as the representativeness of the sample of respondents.

If we recall the already mentioned article about the cities of Italy, the authors of this work argue that even if we assume that everyone was ill, the proportion of deaths from infected people will be at least 0.5%. Without this assumption, their mortality rate is 1.29%.

Another way to assess mortality is to look at “natural experiments” when an entire isolated group of people is tested for coronavirus. In a previous article, I cited the Diamond Princess liner as an example, where 1.8% of those infected died. Later, I checked that the average age of people on the liner was still 58 years (for comparison, in Russia the average age of the population is 40 years), that is, the figure of 1.8% should not be transferred to entire countries. On the other hand, patients from the liner received timely medical care. And this has already become a problem in many regions of the world.

Now there are additional similar “experiments” in the form of mass infection on aircraft carriers Charles de Gaulle and Theodore Roosevelt. But these infections happened too recently to draw any conclusions about mortality. In addition, there will be age distortion in the opposite direction - most crews are young.

So, although estimates of the mortality of coronavirus can differ several times, even optimistic scenarios indicate that it is significantly more dangerous than seasonal flu. In addition, additional deaths occur due to the increased load on health systems that are not ready for such a number of patients. Moreover, this factor is very significant.

It is clear that not all people can afford isolation. It is all the more important that those who can afford it adhere to it. In addition, everyone should observe hygiene measures (do not touch your face, wash your hands with soap, use antiseptics, including wiping gadgets and other items that you often touch with them), the rules of social distance (according to the latest data, the virus can be transmitted up to 4 meters). And we will wait for new data..."

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