Posted on 12 May 2020
Most deaths from COVID-19 are in those who are elderly or have medical conditions. It is speculated that many individuals killed by the virus may still have died shortly from other causes had they not contracted the disease. How long a COVID-19 victim would otherwise have lived – their years of life lost – is difficult to estimate, but a recent study estimates that this number at around 11 years on average for those aged 50 and above.
The study used data from Britain and Italy. Researchers first analysed data from 850 000 Welsh people to estimate life expectancy for a given age and set of chronic conditions. They then used this to estimate the years of life lost across different age groups.
20% of the dead were people in their 50s and 60s who were expected to live another 25 years on average. Male victims lost roughly one year of life more than their female counterparts.
The authors of the study warn that their data has limitations – for example, it excludes deaths that occurred in care homes. As people living in care homes are more likely to be nearing the end of their lives, including these deaths would probably have led to a lower estimate of the years of life lost. The study also did not take into account the severity of the conditions affecting COVID victims. Individuals with more severe medical conditions are more likely to die if they contract COVID-19 than those with the same condition in a milder form. This study would therefore tend to over-estimate the normal life expectancy of COVID-19 victims, and therefore the number of years of life lost on average.
Nevertheless, this study suggests that many COVID-19 victims were far from reaching the end of their lives.
COVID-19 – exploring the implications of long-term condition type and extent of multimorbidity on years of life lost: a modelling study [version 1; peer review: awaiting peer review]: https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.15849.1
Would most covid-19 victims have died soon, without the virus?: https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/05/02/would-most-covid-19-victims-have-died-soon-without-the-virus