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KCDC says virus death rate rising in S. Korea

Death rate in patients above 80 surges past 18 percent

Medics at the Daegu Dongsan Hospital attend to a COVID-19 patient. (Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital)
Medics at the Daegu Dongsan Hospital attend to a COVID-19 patient. (Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital)

South Korea’s case fatality rate from the novel coronavirus reached 1.64 percent Monday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a significant rise from March 1’s 0.4 percent.

The KCDC said that as of midnight Sunday, 158 out of 9,661 confirmed with the virus have died.

Epidemiologist Dr. Kim Dong-hyun, who is on the medical societies’ joint committee for virus response, said Korea’s death rate was lower initially because approximately a third of confirmed cases were aged 30 or younger.

“But when you compare the mortality rates in people over 80 to places like China or Italy, the figures are largely similar,” he said.

He added that a comprehensive picture of how deadly the disease is will be hard to trace until the epidemic passes and there is established data.

At the heart of Korea’s outbreak in North Gyeongsang Province, the rate is higher, at 3.2 percent.

Infectious disease specialist Kim Hyun-ah of Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital in Daegu -- where over 600 virus patients have been or are being treated -- said in a phone interview the recent outbreaks in nursing homes are believed to have caused the increase in the mortality rate.

“After community spread set in, the average age of patients at our hospital is roughly 62-63 years. Then the contagion in nursing homes sparked a surge in 70 to 80-something patients,” she said.

Older patients are more likely to get seriously ill and die, she said. Monday data shows 79 percent of all who died there were 80 or above.

For people above 80, the nationwide death rate appears much higher at 18.31 percent. This means about 1 in 5 elderly people who contracted the virus have died.

But this is not to say for younger people, the disease will pass “like the flu or a cold.”

“Over half of all patients with COVID-19 have developed pneumonia,” she said. “Full statistics are not yet available but chest imaging of some of the recovered patients still showed signs of abnormalities.”

“Comparisons to other seasonal coronavirus illnesses like the common cold are a misconception,” she said.

According to the KCDC, 74 patients were in severe or critical condition. Fifty-two of them were unable to breathe without intervention. One mechanically ventilated adult patient was under 30 years of age.

The World Health Organization’s Sunday situation report says the global mortality rate stands at 4.71 percent.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)
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