The semantics of COVID-19

Is death ‘with’ COVID-19 just as bad as death ‘of’ COVID-19?

Hot on the heels of the armchair scientists and their cries of COVID-hoax and Frankenstein vaccines, are the armchair statisticians. Many are armed only with the ability to copy and paste text from one dubious source to another; their abilities as statisticians or epidemiologists are patently lacking.

Over the years, I may have missed their howls of protest about how the WHO, the CDC and the UK's Office for National Statistics collate and present mortality rates; those for HIV/AIDS or measles, for example. But now they are in full bray about how the 'COVID deaths' are being counted using ‘deaths within 28-days of a positive test’.

In an ongoing pandemic, you need a quick estimate of deaths due to the disease. So, a 'COVID death' is recorded if someone dies and has tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus within the previous 28 days. It's not going to be a super-accurate estimate but it’s probably accurate to within a few thousand, and it provides a good working model to use when formulating responses to the crisis.

Deaths within 28 days of a positive test (Mar 2020 - Feb 2021)

Source: ONS

However, according to the 'nouveau experts', this is greatly over-emphasising the dangers of the virus because these deaths are simply in people 'with' the virus; these people are not dying 'of' COVID-19. And many of them would have died anyway.

It's like a motorist who kills a child in a hit-and-run accident, telling the grieving parents that he or she was sorry that their child had died of crush injuries and blood loss. "Oh, the car? Well, your daughter died within 6 days of being hit by my car but that's not what killed her."

By the same sort of logic, no one has ever died of HIV/AIDS. And the 142 000 people who die 'with measles' every year aren't actually killed by a virus.

HIV inactivates your immune system. If you get AIDS, you die from complications caused by an under-active immune system (such as various types of cancer and certain infections). The virus itself does not kill you. Those who die 'with measles' usually die from acute encephalitis not the virus directly.

Those who get the most severe forms of COVID, die due to complications of an immune system that has had a runaway meltdown. For example, they die 'of' severe pneumonia. But they would not have got that severe pneumonia unless they had been infected 'with' COVID. The cause of death, as for so many viral diseases, is not direct. However, the bottom line is that those people would not be dead were it not for them getting COVID-19.

So, the idea that we shouldn't need to worry about the COVID-19 virus because it doesn't actually kill you directly is palpable nonsense. But it's easier just to copy and paste something without bothering to spend any time doing any critical thinking.

There are other measures of the number of deaths caused by COVID-19, not just a count of deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID test. All of these measures will have a degree of error. For example, I suspect that the '28-day death count' gives an underestimate of the true number of deaths attributable to COVID-19; the measurement does not include all those who die due to complications from COVID months after having the disease (nearly a third of COVID patients who have been hospitalised with COVID and who have then recovered, are readmitted into hospital within the next 140 days). An alternative measure is excess deaths. In the UK, in the last 12 months there have been over 80 000 excess deaths. Something is responsible. If it's not COVID, then what the hell is it?

Excess deaths compared to five-year average (Jan 2020 - Jan 2021)

Source: ONS

Those people who are dying 'with COVID-19' are mostly also dying 'of COVID-19'. COVID is the underlying cause. To deny this, displays an inability to think logically. But those who bandy this sort of nonsense around also betray staggering levels of self-interest. After all, their main aim is to show evidence for why their lives should return to normal; those who would die as a result, will not (of course) have died from this outbreak of abject narcissism ... merely 'with' it.

All data Office for National Statistics:

Text: Mark Levesley   @marklevesley

Photo: Henrix_photos via Pixabay