Group Most Likely To Get Covid-19 Is Least Likely To Die From It

More young people get new coronavirus, but older people account for most deaths. Group Most Likely To Get Covid-19 Is Least Likely To Die From It

It isn’t clear whether President Trump, who is 74 years old, was infected with the coronavirus by a 31-year-old political adviser—but if he was, the transmission route from young to old would follow an international trend.

Young people account for the majority of known Covid-19 infections, but the elderly account for most of the deaths.

“It’s a social moral dilemma,” said Mun Sim Lai, a population-affairs officer with the United Nations who has examined the trend. “Young people get the virus and don’t die, but they are the ones spreading it to old people. This is true over the world.”

Dr. Lai analyzed data from 55 countries, including the U.S., and found that through Sept. 1, people who were 65 and older represented just 12% of confirmed coronavirus cases but 66% of deaths.

Those who were 44 and younger accounted for 60% of known cases but only 7% of deaths.

In the countries Dr. Lai examined, 11.7 million people younger than age 65 had been infected with Covid-19 and around 169,400 died. In comparison, 1.6 million older people had been infected and around 331,000 died.

That doesn’t mean younger people have gotten a free pass.

While the raw number of deaths caused by Covid-19 is low for ages 25 to 44, mortality has increased by around 25% this year compared with the previous five years, according to data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Even though it’s a relatively small number of deaths, it’s a big impact,” said Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality-statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the CDC. “It’s an additional fourth of what’s normal.”

Another way to think about the impact is to consider how many people were expected to die this year based on historical data versus how many people have actually died.

In the U.S., there were 10 deaths for every 10,000 people ages 25 to 44 on average in the first 32 weeks of the year from 2015 through 2019, Dr. Lai said, a period selected to match the number of weeks this year affected by Covid-19 at the time of her analysis.

Under normal circumstances, she would anticipate about the same mortality rate this year.

“But what has happened,” she said, “is there were about 12 deaths for every 10,000 people ages 25 to 44 years old. The absolute risk for dying for that group is about two deaths per 10,000 people more than we would expect.”

In the U.S., the leading cause of death for ages 25 to 44 is unintentional injury, including drug overdoses, with around 47,000 fatalities in 2018, the most recent year the information is available from the CDC.

The fifth-leading cause of death for this group is homicide (behind suicide, cancer and heart disease) with 5,843 deaths in 2018. So far this year, around the same number have died from Covid-19, according to the CDC’s provisional counts.

The provisional numbers, which are based on death-certificate data, lag behind case surveillance by two weeks on average, according to the CDC, and are lower in comparison.

Experts caution that the coronavirus might not have caused all of this year’s additional deaths.

“It’s a good hypothesis that it’s from Covid, but you have to take into account if there is an increase of other things young people die of, like overdoses and accidents,” said Amira Roess, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University.

For people 65 and older, Dr. Lai found 281 deaths per 10,000 people during the first 32 weeks of 2020 in the U.S., or about 40 more deaths per 10,000 people than expected.

The leading cause of death for this age group is heart disease, with more than half a million losing their lives to that condition in 2018, followed by cancer, with more than 431,000 deaths. So far this year, at least 143,790 older people have died from Covid-19, according to the CDC’s provisional counts, which would make it the third-leading cause of death.

In some ways, the difference in mortality between the young and old isn’t surprising. The coronavirus kills the elderly more frequently than it does younger people—but so does pretty much everything else.

According to data from the CDC, Americans who are 85 or older account for 30% of all deaths and 31% of Covid-19 losses. Those who are 75 to 84 years old make up 24% of all deaths and 26% of Covid-19 fatalities. And those who are 65 to 74 years old represent 20% of all deaths and 21% of coronavirus losses.

“The percentages are remarkably close to how mortality affects the total population of each group,” Dr. Anderson said.

But most leading causes of death aren’t contagious, and what concerns experts is the role resilient younger people have played in transmitting a deadly coronavirus to a vulnerable elderly population.

“The fact is these younger folks don’t live in a bubble,” Dr. Anderson said. “They’re interacting with older folks. Even if they’re not at risk of dying, they’re at risk of infecting someone else who is at risk of dying.”

And that might be hard to live with.



 

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