Fact: Most people recover from COVID-19

Let’s kick today’s edition of my week-long series on the facts about COVID-19 (coronavirus) off with some good news: It may not be as deadly as some reports suggest.

Last week, I shared the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) estimated mortality rate of roughly two percent. But the available data is changing by the day. And it turns out that the coronavirus mortality rate may only be half as high.

Which makes sense. You have to remember that, currently, the cases that have been confirmed are also the most severe cases. Meaning there could be many more cases in which patients have milder symptoms that they mistake for a common cold—or even no symptoms at all.

Accounting for all of these cases would cause the calculated fatality rate to plummet. And that’s just what scientists did in order to reach this latest estimate.

Most patients recover without problems

They looked at 1,099 patients in China, where the disease originated—all with lab-confirmed COVID-19 and symptoms spanning a wide spectrum of severity.

Overall, five percent of patients required intensive care and were admitted to the ICU accordingly. Just over two percent required mechanical ventilation. And ultimately, 1.4 percent died.

These aren’t insignificant numbers. But they also tell us that more than 90 percent of patients with coronavirus will recover from it.

Among the 877 patients without severe disease, fever was the most common symptom. But only 43.8 percent of patients had one at the time of hospital admission (though that number rose closer to 89 percent while hospitalized).

Cough was present in nearly 68 percent of patients. But nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea were far less common, presenting in fewer than five percent of patients.

Be careful—but don’t panic

The average age of this group was 47 years old and men made up a slightly higher percentage (58 percent vs. 42 percent female). It’s also worth noting that a good 25 percent of these patients had coexisting conditions, like high blood pressure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Patients with severe disease tended to skew older by about seven years. And the average hospital stay was 12 days.

In all, 3.5 percent of the diagnosed patients were healthcare workers, while closer to half were residents of Wuhan, China—the epicenter of the outbreak. (Of the patients who didn’t live in Wuhan, nearly three quarters had had contact with people who did live there.)

Once again, these numbers are nothing to sniff at. But they correlate much more closely with a seasonal flu epidemic than a world-ending pandemic. (For a more concrete contrast, look at SARS or MERS—two notorious coronaviruses with fatality rates of ten percent and 36 percent, respectively.)

Should you exercise reasonable caution against COVID-19? Absolutely. (Especially if you fall into a high-risk patient category—more details on that tomorrow.) So, eat right, sleep well, wash your hands, and avoid public gatherings and unnecessary travel as advised.

But please… don’t panic.

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“COVID-19 Mortality Rate May Be ‘Considerably Less Than 1%’” Medscape Medical News, 03/02/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/926089)