- Meike Wintersdoctoral candidate1,
- Ben Oppenheim, vice president of product, policy and partnerships2
- Jonas PeakInternal Medicine Therapist3
- Helena Nordenstedtinternal medicine specialist and project coordinator1
- 1Department of Global Public Health, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
2Metabiota, San Francisco, California, USA
3Dunderids Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden
The spread of the new coronavirus was accompanied by a viral spread of misinformation. Misinformation is easily created, as recent news in Bmj about a preprint claiming that “a third of 19 patients admitted to British hospitals die.”1 on Twitter Bmj added “put the mortality rate on a par with Ebola” based on a quote from one of the authors of the study. Unsurprisingly, this spawned news headlines such as “Experts warn the coronavirus – as dangerous as Ebola” in a new shocking new study. ”2
The Covid-19 Mortality Rate (CFR) – the ratio between confirmed deaths and confirmed cases – currently has a global average of around 6.5% .3 Given the diagnostic limitations of testing and significant case reports worldwide, the true mortality rate from Covid-19 infections are probably much lower. Ebola CFR is an average of 50% – every second patient with confirmed Ebola is likely to die. By simply comparing CFRs, covid-19 is obviously less deadly than Ebola.
The preprint, however, analyzed mortality rates (HFRs) in a 19th-generation hospital: mortality among a subset of cases serious enough to require hospitalization. In the case of covid-19, hospitalized cases account for only a small fraction of the total number of cases (although the exact proportion globally remains unclear). As for Ebola, almost all patients need inpatient treatment: CFR is about the same as HFR. Comparison of HFR covid-19 with CFR Ebola is at best uninformative, at worst misleading.
Combining the Ebola virus and Covid-19 in one sentence is an effective way to attract public attention, but not an effective strategy for transmitting scientific information, especially when public fear and anxiety are high. Misinformation is often a technically correct fact that breaks out of context, creating a narrative in itself5. Each new evidence deserves to be reported with due care, especially if it is published by a reliable source, such as a leading medical journal. ,
This article is made freely available for use in accordance with the terms and conditions of the BMJ website for the duration of the covid-19 pandemic or until the BMJ determines otherwise. You can use, download and print the article for any legal, non-commercial purposes (including extracting text and data), provided that all copyright and trademark notices are preserved.