COVID Is 14 Times Deadlier If You're Over This Age, Research Shows

A health policy professor has run the numbers and the death rate among this age group is far worse.

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Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we've been told to protect one vulnerable group in particular: the elderly. A July report published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that patients aged 80 years or older were 11 times more likely to die from the virus, compared with those under 40. But what about the COVID fatality rate for those whose age is somewhere in between? If you're wondering at what age does someone enter the highest risk category for a severe—or even potentially deadly—case of COVID-19, a college professor has run the numbers. He found that individuals aged 60 years or older are far more likely to die from the virus than younger people.

The study comes from Nir Menachemi, PhD, MpH, professor of health policy and management at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. He aimed to find out both how deadly COVID is overall and just how significant a danger the virus is to different age groups and demographics in his state of Indiana.

What he found was that COVID-19 patients who are 60 years or older are exponentially more likely to succumb to the virus compared to other age groups, especially those under 40 and even those between 40 and 60 years of age. He based his findings on the infection–fatality ratio (IFR), which compares the number of deaths per demographic to the total number of cases.

According to his findings, one in every 58 infections among those over 60 resulted in death, leading to an IFR of 1.7 percent. The fatality rate dropped off considerably for middle-aged adults between 40 and 59 years old. The IFR among that group was 0.12 percent, or one death for every 833 infections. That means that those over 60 are 14 times more likely to die from COVID than those who are 40 to 59 years old.

For infected people under 40, the mortality rate was remarkably low. Only about one in 10,000 COVID patients died, or an IFR of 0.01 percent, making COVID a terrifying 170 times deadlier for those over 60 than those under 40.

Doctor and senior man wearing facemasks
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Menachemi also compared the COVID IFR for people over 60 to the death rate from influenza in the U.S. among people over 65 years, which is 0.8 percent, determining that "COVID-19 is approximately 2.5 times more deadly than the flu in this age group."

Menachemi notes that, like most diseases, COVID-19 is riskiest for patients already in poor health, which limits their ability to fight off the virus. As we've long known, certain chronic diseases—such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease—all increase one's risk of death from the virus. Sadly, "these chronic diseases are more common among the elderly and racial minorities in the U.S.," Menachemi notes.

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Menachemi's findings aren't necessarily new. Medical and public health experts have known that coronavirus presents a far more deadly risk for older people. What is unique is the specific numbers that he revealed, at least in the state of Indiana, where his data was pulled from.

He notes that "Indiana ranks relatively low for overall health among states in the U.S. However, Indiana's median age is slightly lower than the U.S. overall and lower than many states." As a result, he believes the numbers in Indiana are "likely close to national averages, but the infection-fatality ratio could vary from state to state or town to town."

Of course, "if your state is less healthy than the risk will be higher," Menachemi says. And to find out if you need to worry, check out Every U.S. State Ranked From Healthiest to Unhealthiest.

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