Special Report

How COVID Fatality Rates Compare With Other Deadly Diseases

With the second anniversary of the pandemic nearing, we don’t need to be reminded of the deadliness of viruses. As of Jan. 22, 5.58 million deaths worldwide have been attributed to the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. More than 864,000 of the deaths have been reported  in the United States, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

As deadly as the novel coronavirus has been, there are many other viruses that are lethal to humans. (COVID-19: These are the states fighting it most successfully.)

To find how COVID-19 fatality rate compares with other diseases, 24/7 Tempo reviewed several resources. The measure, case fatality rate, or CFR,  uses known infections and deaths, and therefore may be an overestimate or an underestimate of the actual overall infection fatality rate. The case fatality rate listed is assuming no treatment or vaccines, which many of the diseases have.

Viruses are microscopic parasites that depend on other cells, from bacteria to plants to animals to survive. For a virus to cause infection, it attaches to the cell of the host at one of the receptor molecules on the cell surface. It then enters the host cell and proceeds to replicate and infect other host cells.

While some of the diseases on the list are caused by viruses, others are caused by bacteria. Bacteria are small single-celled organisms found almost everywhere on Earth, including within our bodies. Unlike viruses, bacteria don’t necessarily need a host cell. And while many bacteria cause no harm, some can cause diseases.

Both viruses and bacteria can spread from person to person in a similar manner, whether through direct contact or through the air. Both can also cause diseases that range from mild to severe and chronic.

Some of the diseases on the list like plague and cholera have been with us for centuries, and if left untreated, they can be fatal. Others are relatively recent scourges, such as Ebola (1976), the H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu (2009), and the avian flu (H7N9) (2013). 

Many of the diseases on the list are zoonotic, meaning they are spread from animals and can be fatal if not treated. Many are specifically mosquito-borne. (Another disease transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease. (These are the worst states for Lyme disease.)

Thanks to advances in medicines over the years, many have vaccines or treatments, and fatality rates are considerably lower today than they would be otherwise. Some, however, still do not have treatment.  

Click here to see how COVID fatality rates compare with other deadly diseases

To find how COVID-19 fatality rate differs from other diseases, 24/7 Tempo reviewed several resources, including the World Health Organization, the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as published research papers such as the Institute of Population Health Sciences, University of Newcastle’s Comparison of COVID-19 Health Risks With Other Viral Occupational Hazards.

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