There’s been a lot of worry about ‘misinformation’ around COVID-19, with numerous calls to suppress anything that doesn’t agree with the WHO’s current line, and news and social media companies all too happy to oblige.
Sometimes, though, the worst offenders are the mainstream sources themselves.
Take Wikipedia. On its main COVID-19 page – a page which cannot be edited by mere mortals as it is “protected to prevent vandalism” – it states the following in the second paragraph:
Of those people who develop noticeable symptoms, most (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging), and 5% suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction).
This is claiming that almost a fifth of symptomatic COVID-19 infections are severe, and 1 in 20 are critical. If these are the statistics that people are reading then no wonder they’re scared.
Wikipedia is many people’s first port of call when looking up a subject, and often comes out near the top of internet searches. So the fact that it grossly exaggerates the seriousness of COVID-19 should be concerning. Even more concerning is why it does so.
Where did Wikipedia get its stats from? Alarmingly, the reference is to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In its latest clinical guidance, in a section headed “Illness Severity”, the U.S. federal health agency states:
A large cohort that included more than 44,000 people with COVID-19 from China, showed that illness severity can range from mild to critical:
– Mild to moderate (mild symptoms up to mild pneumonia): 81%
– Severe (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging): 14%
– Critical (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan system dysfunction): 5%
In this study, all deaths occurred among patients with critical illness, and the overall case fatality ratio (CFR) was 2.3%.
These statistics come straight from an early study on the first 44,000 Covid patients in China, published on February 24th 2020. The study does not mention hospital admissions and it appears that all of these cases were in fact hospital patients. At any rate, the figures suggest a sample heavily skewed towards serious illness.
A more accurate estimate of severity comes from the ONS. In the December peak, the ONS estimated around 2% of the population of England were infected with COVID-19 and around 0.04% of the population were being admitted to hospital each week with the virus. This means about 2% of infections were leading to hospital admission, or 1% if we allow for the estimated half of serious infections caught in hospital. This is about 20 times lower than the nearly 20% serious infections in the Chinese study.
Why is the CDC still using this early study as its main source of statistics on the severity of COVID-19 when we’ve found out so much more about the illness since February 2020? Why is Wikipedia featuring these figures at the top of its COVID-19 page? Don’t they realise how misleading and unnecessarily frightening they are?