Age, better treatments may be cause of COVID-19 death rate drop


Cases of COVID-19 may be on the upswing across much of the world, but fatality rates are dropping — and it could be due to the age of those infected and better treatments for the virus, researchers have found.

Younger people coming down with coronavirus is likely one factor that’s been driving down the mortality rate since the start of the pandemic last spring, according to statistics from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, CNN reported.

Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine analyzed data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that across the US, 6.7 percent of cases resulted in death in April, versus 1.9 percent in September.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the death rate in the UK was just below 3 percent at the end of June. By August, it dropped as low as about 0.5 percent and now hovers around 0.75 percent.

“We think it’s probably driven a lot by age, but also other factors, like treatment,” said Jason Oke, a senior statistician at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

Between January and May, the median age of COVID-19 patients was 54, the ECDP said. In June and July, it dropped to 39.

Older folks are more susceptible to succumbing to the virus, which ravaged nursing homes including in New York, where as many as 11,000 died, the Associated Press has reported.

Data from the London School of Economics also found that on average 46 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in 21 countries happened in care homes, CNN said.

Experts say treatment has also gotten better since the early days of the global health crisis.

“While COVID-19 remains a terrible disease, our efforts to improve treatment are probably working,” the NYU study’s lead author Dr. Leora Horwitz, an associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, told CNN.

Ventilators — which may have caused more harm than good — are now being used less, with doctors turning to using other methods of treatment, like placing patients in a prone position to enable better breathing.

A worker digs a grave during a funeral serivce at Pondok Ranggon Cemetery in Jakarta, Indonesia
A worker digs a grave during a funeral service at Pondok Ranggon Cemetery in Jakarta, IndonesiaEPA

Doctors are also seeing good results from the antiviral medication remdesivir, which was approved last week by the US Food and Drug Administration as a COVID-19 treatment.

Experts warn, however, that the stunning death rates at the height of the pandemic may have been skewed by testing.

“If you only test the symptomatic cases you may massively underestimate the number of infections if the proportion of asymptomatic infections is large,” Dr. Julian Tang told CNN.

The clinical virologist and honorary associate professor at the University of Leicester noted that as many as 60 to 70 percent of cases could be asymptomatic, according to some studies.

“So the reported [case fatality rate] may be disproportionately high at the start of the pandemic but then drops later as the pandemic progresses, as we test more asymptomatic cases to ‘dilute’ down this apparent death rate,” Tang said.


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