May 19, 2020 / 8:15 PM / 17 days ago

False claim: All patients who die of COVID-19 have serious health problems 

A post circulating on Facebook incorrectly claims that all patients who have died after contracting COVID-19 had  serious underlying health problems.  

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The post reads: “They say that the coronavirus is nothing more than the flu, with nearly all recovering in a short time - the few who do not survive always have other very serious health problems. NO PANDEMIC” (here). This claim is misleading. 

Health professionals have told Reuters that even young and healthy people are succumbing to the infection, sometimes deteriorating rapidly and taking doctors by surprise (here). 

Scientists believe genetic susceptibility or the amount of virus that infects a person could cause some young and healthy people to die of the disease (here here here).

The latest Office for National Statistics figures reveal just under a tenth of all COVID-19 deaths in England and Wales in March and April had no pre-existing health conditions (here here).

However, it is true that older adults and those with certain health conditions are more vulnerable to the virus (here).

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in early April that, “Among those who have sadly lost their lives, two thirds are male, and 95% are over the age of 60. Most of these individuals had one or a combination of underlying conditions: cardiovascular disease (66%), diabetes (29%) and renal disease (21%).” 

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) has published a complete list of who is at high and moderate risk from coronavirus (here). 

Cases of children dying from the infection have also been reported (here here) and acknowledged by the WHO, which states that in “rare cases, the disease can also be fatal for children and younger adults.” (here) 

The post on social media is also incorrect in claiming that the coronavirus is “nothing more than flu”. It is true that COVID-19 and influenza have similar symptoms and are transmitted by contact. But there are differences in the speed of transmission, the reproductive number (or the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual) and the fraction of people who suffer severe disease.  

The WHO states: “For COVID-19, data to date suggest that 80% of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical infections, requiring ventilation. These fractions of severe and critical infection would be higher than what is observed for influenza infection.” (here) 

Seasonal flu kills fewer than 1 percent of those infected, according to WHO, whereas the mortality rate for COVID-19 is far higher, with the percentage ranging widely between different countries (here). 

Coronavirus infections topped 4.6 million globally as of May 18 (here), with the numbers comparing to seasonal influenza. According to WHO, seasonal flu results in an estimated 3-5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory deaths each year (tinyurl.com/umr22lm). 

The Reuters fact check team has previously investigated a misleading claim that COVID-19 is not as deadly as feared (here). 

VERDICT 

False. Not all patients who die from the novel coronavirus have underlying health conditions. The claim that the coronavirus is nothing “more than a flu” is also incorrect, as the mortality rate of COVID-19 is considerably higher than that of seasonal flu.  

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts  here  . 

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