Coronavirus: LA data suggests REAL death rate is 0.18%


Coronavirus may kill 70 times fewer patients than official UK death figures suggest, studies have shown.

Britain has one of the worst COVID-19 testing records, meaning a frightening 13 per cent of diagnosed patients in the UK die from the disease. 

But this is considerably higher than the real death rate because it does not take into account the thousands of infected people who had mild symptoms. 

Scientists say the only way to work out the actual rate is to test blood samples of the population for antibodies, which the immune system makes once infected.

While the accuracy of these tests is up for debate, experts agree they give a much clearer indication of who has previously been infected – and are considered key to easing the draconian lockdowns imposed across the world.

Results of one antibody survey in Los Angeles suggested the illness may only kill around 0.18 per cent of coronavirus patients. 

It was based on the assumption that the true number of infections in LA was 330,000, far higher than the 7,994 that official figures showed when the study was published on April 20.

This is because tens of thousands of people develop such mild symptoms that they are never tested for the illness. 

Applying the same death rate to Britain’s coronavirus crisis would suggest that the number of Brits who had caught the virus is in the region of 9.5million – or 14 per cent. 

But Government advisers say the true number is likely to be a third of that, and some studies from France suggest it will only get up to 6 per cent in a matter of weeks.

Scientists say the only way to work out true coronavirus death rates is to test blood samples of the population for antibodies. Such studies have been carried out in the US, Germany, Holland and Finland (shown)

Official death rate are skewed by a lack of testing - the UK, for example, only checks people who are severely ill and some healthcare workers

Official death rate are skewed by a lack of testing – the UK, for example, only checks people who are severely ill and some healthcare workers

A similar fatality rate (0.19 per cent) was found in a study of residents in Helsinki, Finland.

The samples were all taken from the region of Uusima, which is home to approximately 1.7million people – most of whom live in the capital of Helsinki. It found that 3.4 per cent of the population had antibodies.

At the time, only 2,000 cases had been confirmed by laboratory tests. But 3.4 per of the region’s population would equate to around 57,800.

WHAT DO THE ANTIBODY TESTS SHOW? 

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA 

Blood samples in Los Angeles suggest the coronavirus death rate could be around 0.18 per cent.

A study of 846 people found roughly 4.1 per cent of the county’s 3.9million population has antibodies to the virus.

It means that roughly 330,000 people have already caught the illness and built up some immunity to it.

There were officially 600 COVID-19 deaths when the research was conducted on April 20.

This suggests that around 0.18 per cent of patients fall victim to the disease. 

CHELSEA, BOSTON

US researchers in Boston found almost a third (31.5 per cent) of residents in the suburb of Chelsea had antibodies for the virus.

They collected blood samples from 200 random volunteers and said roughly 63 people had probably caught the illness.

The city of Chelsea is home to around 40,160 people. If the results were to be extrapolated to the whole city, it suggests 12,650 may have actually been infected.

When the study was published on April 17, Chelsea had suffered 39 deaths to coronavirus.

The finding suggests the true death rate it around 0.31 per cent.

GANGELT, GERMANY

Scientists studying Gangelt, dubbed the ‘German Wuhan’, found as many as 15 per cent of people may have already been infected with the virus.

Data shows around 12,500 people live in the municipality, which sits in the North-Western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

If the results were to be extrapolated to the whole of Gangelt, it would mean that around 1,900 people have already caught the deadly virus.

It is not clear exactly how many people had died in Gangelt by the time that the University of Bonn study of 1,000 people was published.

But the team – whose work was not scrutinised and published in a journal – estimated the true death rate was in the region of 0.37 per cent.  

THE NETHERLANDS

An antibody surveillance scheme in the Netherlands suggested the death rate for COVID-19 could actually be in the region of 0.63 per cent.

Dutch researchers found antibodies in three per cent of blood donors, after analysing samples from around 7,000 people aged between 18 and 69.

The head of the Netherlands’ National Institute for Health told MPs it meant that ‘several hundred thousand people’ may have already been infected.

Around 17.28million people live in the Netherlands. Three per cent of the country’s population would equate to approximately 518,400. 

When results were published on April 16, official figures showed that 3,315 people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in the Netherlands.

HELSINKI, FINLAND

Finnish researchers analysed around 150 blood samples by mid-April and found 3.4 per cent had antibodies for the coronavirus.

The samples were all taken from the region of Uusima, which is home to approximately 1.7million people – most of whom live in the capital of Helsinki.

At the time, only 2,000 cases had been confirmed by laboratory tests. But 3.4 per of the region’s population would equate to around 57,800.

Only 110 deaths have been registered in Uusima to-date – suggesting that the true fatality rate is closer to the 0.19 per cent mark.  

The study was released on April 15 – but the region’s death toll has barely changed in the past week. It was not published in a journal.

SANTA CLARA, LOS ANGELES

A study of 3,300 people in the Californian city of Santa Clara suggested 1.8 per cent of people who catch coronavirus die.

Lead authors Jay Bhattacharya and Eran Bendavid, who study health policy at Stanford University, said around 3 per cent of people had antibodies.

Santa Clara, in California’s Silicon Valley, is home to 130,000 people. If the 3 per cent was applied to the whole city it would mean 3,900 people have been infected.

The region had suffered 70 deaths at the time of the research on April 18, suggesting the true death rate is 1.8 per cent.

Only 110 deaths have been registered in Uusima to-date – suggesting that the true fatality rate is closer to the 0.19 per cent mark.  By comparison, the flu kills roughly 0.1 per cent of the people it infects. 

In other antibody surveillance studies, the death rate was revealed to be higher but still considerably less than the UK’s tally.

Samples in Gangelt, dubbed the ‘German Wuhan’, estimated the true death rate was in the region of 0.37 per cent.  

An antibody surveillance scheme in the US city of Chelsea, in Massachusetts, predicted the city has a death rate of 0.31 per cent.  

And a sample in the Netherlands suggested the death rate for COVID-19 could actually be in the region of 0.63 per cent.  

The varying death rates prove the true lethality of the disease is still unknown, but the antibody studies are starting to paint a clearer picture.

Dr Joe Grove, a virologist at University College London, told MailOnline: ‘Antibody testing is important because the better we understand the virus, the better we can respond to it.

‘The true death rate allows public health experts and epidemiologist to asses what the effects of another epidemic would be.

‘A lot of our current policy has been determined by the predictions of computer simulations. But those models are only as good as the data you put into them. 

‘So there would’ve been estimates of death rates and infections, but as we get firmer numbers we can run more accurate simulations and predict with more confidence what might happen in future. 

‘This is critical for working out if given epidemic will overwhelm the healthcare system again.’ 

Another scientist – Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist from Sydney, Australia – said he was ‘confused’ at experts arguing COVID-19 had a death rate similar to the flu.

He tweeted: ‘Currently, 14,800 people in New York have died. That’s 0.18 per cent OF THE ENTIRE CITY. Unless 100 per cent are infected, it’s not as low as 0.1-0.2 per cent.’

The new antibody studies are giving researchers a clearer idea of the actual number of infections in the population.

Even in the worst-hit regions, fewer than 10 per cent of the population have been infected. 

This signals that countries should not pin their hopes on ‘herd immunity’ preventing a second wave of COVID-19, scientists say.  

When enough of a population, roughly 60 to 70 per cent, build up antibodies against an infection, it stunts the virus’ ability to spread.

Herd immunity was controversially touted as a way out of the crisis by the UK’s scientific advisers at the beginning of the outbreak.

Officials proposed letting the majority of the population catch and beat the disease because the virus’ symptoms in most people is mild.

The government based its planning on the assumption that if the virus was allowed to spread unchecked it would eventually infect 80 per cent of the population. That figure appears to have been borrowed from planning for flu pandemics.  

But research is beginning to show that nowhere near enough people will catch the virus in the first wave to create the indirect community protection.  

Research at the Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, found that about 2.4 per cent of its employees and patients had developed antibodies against COVID-19.

In France, the Pasteur Institute estimates that less than 6 per cent will have been caught it by May 11, when the country’s lockdown is due to end. 

That makes a resurgence of the virus highly likely if restrictions were lifted without a vaccine, experts said.

Simon Cauchemez, lead author of the institute’s study, said: ‘For collective immunity to be effective in avoiding a second wave, we would have to have immunisation for 70 per cent of the population. 

‘We are well below this. If we want to avoid a major second wave, some measures will have to be maintained.’

Countries are moving towards antibody sampling to get a clearer idea of how the infection has spread and how many people may be immune to the disease.

They are considered the key to letting countries out of lockdown safely without a second wave of cases.

But British health chiefs have still only carried out fewer than 5,000 antibody tests – despite mass schemes being carried out across the globe. 

Italy has begun screening the blood of 20,000 people a day, while one programme in the US will involve 40,000 healthcare workers.

Germany plans to test 15,000 people and apply the findings to its whole population, and even Andorra has ordered 150,000 kits – enough to give its entire population two each.

Antibodies are proteins in the blood which reveal if someone has already fought off an infection, including the deadly coronavirus.

Health chiefs have plans to conduct the ‘biggest surveys in the world’ to discover how many of the population have some sort of immunity to the virus.

But they are miles off the 5,000 per week target – Department of Health data shows only 600 were carried out at the Porton Down laboratory yesterday.

Officials promised Britons would be able to do antibody tests in the comfort of their own home in the near future, buying them from Amazon or Boots.

But officials claim the tests they have looked at are not accurate enough to be used, saying they range from between 50 and 70 per cent.

Experts stress the more people screened, the clearer the picture on the true size of the UK’s crisis, which began spreading on British soil in February.  

WHAT IS AN ANTIBODY TEST?

An antibody test is one which tests whether someone’s immune system is equipped to fight a specific disease or infection.

When someone gets infected with a virus their immune system must work out how to fight it off and produce substances called antibodies.

These are extremely specific and are usually only able to tackle one strain of one virus. They are produced in a way which makes them able to latch onto that specific virus and destroy it.

For example, if someone catches COVID-19, they will develop COVID-19 antibodies for their body to use to fight it off.

The body then stores versions of these antibodies in the immune system so that if it comes into contact with that same virus again it will be able to fight it off straight away and probably avoid someone feeling any symptoms at all.

To test for these antibodies, medics or scientists can take a fluid sample from someone – usually blood – and mix it with part of the virus to see if there is a reaction between the two.

If there is a reaction, it means someone has the antibodies and their body knows how to fight off the infection – they are immune. If there is no reaction it means they have not had it yet. 

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