Anti-body testing shows COVID-19 is less deadly than previously thought

The Coronavirus is novel, so it is not surprising that we keep learning new information every day. Indeed while we have understandood about which groups are more at risk of getting sick or dying, some of the stuff we are learning on the go. A good recent example is the virus’ mortality rate.

In the past, COVID-19 mortality rates have only taken into account the number of infected people who tested positive for the coronavirus. These numbers, even though they show the risk of death for someone clinically sick from the virus, do not show the true risk of just being infected by the virus. Because a huge number of patients do not show symptoms and are thereby not tested, deaths are divided over a small number of infections, which means that mortality rates are overstated.

To correct for this, multiple studies have been underway using antibody tests to detect the presence of antibodies to the coronavirus. Antibodies show a sign that a person has ever been infected with the virus at some point but recovered — even if that person never got sick. This gives a somewhat more accurate view of the number of previous infections.

And the good news from these tests so far is that the virus is less deadly than previously thought.

The tests are finding large numbers of people in the U.S. who were infected but never became seriously ill. And when these mild infections are included in coronavirus statistics, the virus appears less dangerous.

On the downside, however, this also means that some people who are infected do not know that they are, so they could easily spread the disease.

The current estimate for mortality rates when calculated only out of people who got sick enough to be diagnosed is 5%. But when antibody tests are included, the mortality rates stay between .5 and 1%.

Antibody testing in Indiana for example revealed that the Covid-19 infection fatality rate turned out to be 0.58%. And that of New York turned out to be .5%. Studies in other states have even suggested lower fatality rates but the results are not certain.

Understandably, infection fatality rates are different depending on demographics. Persons with underlying health conditions and the elderly are still at a higher risk compared to some others. But antibody testing should give a more clear understanding of the risks the majority of the population faces and therefore guide reopening decisions.