So what do these numbers tell us about deaths from COVID-19?
The short answer is, the data basically asserts what we initially believed, but it expands on it as well. The data tells us that people with pre-existing conditions are more likely to have serious effects or die, said Dr. Todd Vento, infectious disease physician for Intermountain Healthcare. More importantly, it helps medical experts determine which pre-existing conditions are most likely to result in hospitalizations or death.
“I think this is a really good lesson in the good, the bad and the ugly of public health – hopefully plus a good one – on how we capture statistics, how we do surveillance, how we let’s share the information with the community so that we can tell what steps are being taken to prevent illness, serious illness or death, ”he said. “This is basically a crash course in the midst of a pandemic about people understanding what data means. ”
According to a Johns Hopkins University tracker, as of Tuesday, September 1, there have been more than 6 million cases and 184,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States; worldwide, there have been more than 25.6 million cases and more than 855,000 deaths.
How COVID-19 Deaths Are Calculated
When someone dies, a clinician or doctor lists an immediate cause of death in the records of a state health department. The doctor can then list other things that could be associated or to which the death could be attributed.
Vento has filed these reports in many states over the course of his career, and the process doesn’t change much. He used a hypothetical 30-year-old COVID-19 patient as an example of how it works. In this scenario, the person contracts COVID-19, develops myocarditis, and later dies of heart failure.
“What you might see on the death certificate is death due to cardiac arrest due to myocarditis due to COVID-19 infection. Now what you see are other conditions, right? He explained.
You can plug in any of the main pre-existing conditions that exist and you will get the same result if COVID-19 is considered the determining factor.
“That’s what happens to that number of 94%. All of this means that they said 6% of the death cases associated with COVID-19 had nothing else listed on the death certificate, ”Vento added.
When there was confusion over coronavirus deaths in the state earlier this year, Dunn clarified that COVID-19 was the main factor behind that person’s death. In frank terms, this matters because even though the individual may have had a pre-existing condition, they would not have died otherwise if it had not been for the coronavirus.
It is also not specific to COVID-19.
Take the flu, for example. The 2019-2020 influenza season resulted in approximately 24,000 to 62,000 deaths between October 1, 2019 and April 4. There is a long list of people more likely to have serious complications from the flu – some overlapping with COVID-19 – and those may end up listed as a co-morbid factor on a death certificate.
“Just like a person who, for example, has an underlying coronary or heart disease and suffers from lung disease, they have a higher risk of having worse influenza illness, just as they have a higher risk. of a worse COVID disease, ”Vento said. “It’s pretty common with respiratory virus pathogens.”
The same is true of virtually all deaths, even outside of viruses, he continued. There can be several co-occurring factors that led to a death, but there is usually a primary cause. In the case of the CDC report, the main factor was determined to be COVID-19.
Why data is important to understanding COVID-19
One of the biggest issues that medical experts have faced throughout the pandemic is the learning curve. No one knew the virus existed and there was absolutely no data on it before it was discovered at the end of 2019. Some data was available by the time it crossed the United States, but not as much as is known now or will be discovered in the United States. the future.
It should be noted that health experts have been concerned about the risks to people with pre-existing conditions since almost the start of the pandemic. For example, Dr Angela Dunn, a Utah State Epidemiologist, told KSL.com on March 11 that “People with underlying medical conditions such as asthma or other lung disease are more at risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19. ”
Based on the data available at the time, she added that heart disease also appeared to play co-morbid factors. To give an idea of the start of the Utah pandemic, the state only had a few cases at that time and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 later today. – and life as we knew it changed almost overnight.
Another higher risk factor for serious illness was older age. The list of pre-existing conditions of concern to the CDC and the Utah Department of Health has grown since then, as new data and research comes in almost daily.
Diabetes, severe obesity, chronic kidney or liver disease, cancer and certain blood disorders are examples of pre-existing conditions added since then. The list goes on because every hospitalization or death adds up to new statistics that researchers need to sift through. Since 94% of deaths included co-morbid factors, this allows physicians to spot pre-existing conditions vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID-19. This is where high risk advice comes from.
What are the main factors described in the CDC report? Well, age matters. Nearly 8 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States involved a person 65 or older. People aged 55 to 64 accounted for 60% of the 33,604 people under the age of 65 who died from COVID-19.
This does not mean that young people cannot die. Three hundred and thirty people under the age of 24 have died from COVID-19, according to the CDC. 1,241 additional deaths were among people aged 25 to 34.
A large number of people who died from COVID-19 had respiratory illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia or adult respiratory distress syndrome listed as co-morbid factors – things that developed after COVID-19 or were aggravated by it. Circulatory disease and diabetes were also common comorbid factors with over 20,000 registrations.
“This confirms that these other conditions can cause you to have a serious infection and even die, and it confirms that (COVID-19 has contributed to) all of these deaths,” Vento said.
As the list continues to grow and new information is learned every week, he added that it was entirely possible that there were uncounted COVID-19 deaths when they should have been. ‘to be. This is because a death may have occurred at a time when the ruling doctor was unaware that a fatal medical episode, such as a blood clot in the lungs the patient suffered from, was being caused. by COVID-19.
So when you see that 94% of COVID-19 deaths included comorbid factors from pre-existing conditions, that’s what it means and why this data is important.
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