Covid-19 Part 1:
You are far more likely to die from Cancer or Heart Disease

At current rates, Cancer and Heart Disease are two and three times more dangerous in the UK and USA respectively

In the graphs below, I used the official deaths attributed to Covid-19 over the 4 month period from 31st December 2019 to 30th April 2020 to come up with a projection for the year. I did this for the UK, the USA and the world, and compared them to other leading causes of death, to introduce some perspective to the data.

The coronavirus projections use the assumption that the average daily fatality rate continues for the rest of the year. This is very unlikely, as it has already peaked in some countries, and the rate is slowing, and it is still unknown how many people have the virus, making it hard to predict how lifting social distancing would affect it. It’s important to point out that coronavirus is the commonly used name for the virus and Covid-19 is the resulting infection caused by it. 

1. The World

There are around 54 million total deaths globally every year. This equates to roughly 18 million every 4 months and 147,000 per day. Using the assumption that the current rate continues, deaths attributed to Covid-19 would make up around 1.3% of these, at 700,000 for the year.

In the four months of this year we have been worrying about coronavirus, 24 and 14 times as many people could have died of Heart Disease and Cancer respectively, and twice as many from road deaths. These figures are year after year, they are not a one-off. Virus outbreaks, on the other hand, are more short-lived as those who recover from infection can build up immunity.

Figure 1 and Table 1. Projected worldwide yearly fatalities for Covid-19 compared with other leading causes. The bottom row on Table 1 is the multiplication factor obtained by dividing yearly deaths by those projected for Covid-19. For example, assuming average weekly death rates of Covid-19 are sustained throughout the year, Diabetes would cause twice as many fatalities as the virus. 

Figure 2. Projected worldwide yearly fatalities for Covid-19 compared with Influenza (Flu). 

2. The USA

It’s important to note that coronavirus has not spread properly to some countries, making it difficult to draw proper comparisons with global causes of death. For this reason I have done the same for the UK and the USA, and will do so for countries such as Italy and Spain in future articles

There are around 2.8 million total deaths in the USA every year and 940,000 every 4 months. In the first four months of this year, the 66,000 Covid-19 attributed deaths have accounted for 7% of these. There could have been as many as 870,000 fatalities from other causes in the same time frame.

In the first four months of this year, three times as many people may have died from both heart disease and cancer, and a similar amount from accidents compared to Covid-19. A noteworthy omission from the data is obesity, something that is very prevalent in America. The reason for this is because the data is hard to come by, as obesity will lead to a number of other problems, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, making the deaths purely caused by obesity hard to pin down. Some estimates put the figure at 300,000 to 500,000 fatalities a year, which would both be substantially larger than those attributed to Covid-19. 

Figure 3 and Table 2. Figure 3 shows Covid-19 compared with other leading causes of death in the USA. Table 2 shows the exact numbers used. The bottom row is the multiplication factor obtained by dividing yearly deaths by those projected for Covid-19. For example, assuming average weekly death rates of Covid-19 are sustained throughout the year, cancer would be attributed to 3 times as many fatalities.

3. The UK

In the UK there are around 541,000 total deaths each year which averages to around 1400 a day. Covid-19 so far in the UK has contributed to an average of 181 per day, 13% of the total. 

Using the assumption that deaths carry on at this average rate throughout 2020, which is very unlikely but used for the purposes of modelling, my figures estimate a yearly figure of around 80,000. In contrast, Heart and Circulatory Diseases (Cardiovascular Disease) and Cancer would kill over two times as many people. Alzheimers, the fastest growing cause of death in the UK, is reported to cause the same number as the coronavirus projection. Figure 4 compares it to the yearly deaths from other causes in the UK. 

Figure 4. Covid-19 attributed deaths compared to other leading causes for the UK. 

4. Limitations 

It is important to note that the comparison figures are constant, i.e they are causing that number of fatalities year after year after year. In contrast, virus outbreaks such as the current pandemic, are short-lived. 

It’s also worth consideration that many of these problems also have a significant and lasting effect on people’s lives. For example, nearly two thirds of stroke survivors in the UK leave hospital with a disability. Globally, of the 15 million people who suffer a stroke every year, over 5 million die and 5 million survivors are left permanently disabled. 

Coronavirus is a novel virus against which our bodies have not built up immunity, meaning it spreads very quickly among us. There is still a large amount of uncertainty how many people have been infected, which means it’s hard to effectively model if there are likely to be other ‘peaks’ once lockdown measures are lifted, the scale of them and the death rate. The projections use the average daily and weekly rate since the beginning of the year to project forward. In future sections of this review, the issues of mortality (death) rate and likely amount of people infected are addressed.

The next installment in this Covid-19 review addresses the issue of the true death rate and questions how close to that of ‘normal’ influenza it is. Read it here! 

Do you think this gives a good perspective? Read the next installment in the Covid-19 Review here, which delves into the issue of ‘true’ mortality rate.

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