Coronavirus Mortality Rate Likely Overstated, But Is Still Far More Deadly Than Flu, Top Expert Tells Lawmakers

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Andrew Kerr Investigative Reporter
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One of the nation’s top experts on infectious diseases told lawmakers Wednesday that the estimated mortality rate for novel coronavirus is likely vastly overstated but stressed that the disease still poses a “serious risk” and is far more deadly than the common flu.

John Hopkins University reported that as of Wednesday there are over 121,000 confirmed global coronavirus infections and a death toll of over 4,300, producing a mortality rate of 3.5% of all known cases.

But there are likely a significant amount of unreported cases from people exhibiting only mild symptoms, and once those are accounted for the mortality rate is likely to drop precipitously, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said at a House Oversight hearing Wednesday.

“I think if you count all the cases of minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic infection that probably brings the mortality rate somewhere around 1%,” Fauci told lawmakers.

But Fauci warned that even with a 1% mortality rate, coronavirus, or COVID-19, is still ten times more lethal than the common flu.

“This is a really serious problem that we have to take seriously,” he said. “The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%. This has a mortality rate of ten times that. And that’s the reason why I want to emphasize that we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this.”

Fauci told lawmakers that the American death toll from coronavirus will rise, but the amount of carnage it will create is “totally dependent upon how we respond to it.” (RELATED: Fauci On Coronavirus In US: ‘It’s Going To Get Worse’)

“If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation the number could go way up and be involved in many, many millions,” he said.

“If we contain, we can flatten it,” Fauci said, adding that measures the government can take to proactively combat the virus include limiting “the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country,” he said.

Countries that have deployed aggressive coronavirus testing procedures generally have a lower known mortality rate, according to a Business Insider report.

South Korea, for example, had conducted 3,692 tests per million citizens as of Sunday. The country has 7,755 known infections and 60 deaths, resulting in a known mortality rate of about 0.8%.

By contrast, the United States has seen widespread delays in fully deploying coronavirus testing kits nationwide, resulting in just about five coronavirus tests conducted per million citizens as of Sunday, a rate 700 times less than South Korea, according to Business Insider.

Previous pandemics have seen their initial mortality rates drop after the full scope of the outbreak was taken into consideration, such as the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

In November 2009, amid the global outbreak swine flu, the World Health Organization reported a 1.3% mortality rate for the disease.

Swine flu landed at a mortality rate of 0.02% once all cases mild and severe were accounted for. The disease ultimately infected between 700 million and 1.4 billion people worldwide.

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