Middle-aged folks’ risk of dying from a COVID-19 infection is higher than they might think, a new study reports.
The risk of death from COVID increases with age, but researchers have found that the upward curve grows exponentially steeper with every extra decade.
One out of every 800 people entering early middle age at 45 will die from their COVID infection, 55-year-olds have a 1 in 240 risk of dying if they contract the coronavirus, and 65-year-olds have a 1 in 70 chance, said lead researcher Andrew Levin, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
By comparison, people who are 25 have a 1 in 10,000 risk of dying from COVID, and 35-year-olds have a 1 in 2,700 chance, Levin said.
“This isn’t just dangerous for elderly people in nursing homes,” Levin said. “COVID gets progressively more and more dangerous, even in middle age.”
The new numbers come from a systematic review of all available studies of COVID-19 incidence in countries with advanced economies, and are based specifically on data from 27 studies covering locations in the United States, Canada, Asia and Europe.
“Risk increases as age increases, and even those who are in middle age have a substantial [death] risk that they should account for when making risk calculations regarding the virus,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore. He is not connected to the study.
The new analysis found that a middle-aged American’s risk of death from a COVID-19 infection is many times greater than their risk of dying in a car crash, Levin added.
People between 45 and 55 die nearly 18 times more often from COVID-19 than from an auto wreck, according to the study, while those aged 55 to 64 are almost 58 times more likely to die from a COVID infection than a crash.
Middle-aged people should keep this in mind when deciding whether to slip on a mask, wash their hands or practice social distancing, said Dr. Abhijit Duggal, a critical care doctor with the Cleveland Clinic.
“The risk is there,” said Duggal, who wasn’t part of the study. “It’s not just older folks that really are going to have a high risk of dying from this disease process. Middle-aged people do, too.”
Duggal added that while this study solely looked at the risk of death from COVID, the coronavirus also can damage the body in ways that could potentially lead to years of suffering for survivors.
“Death is not the only bad outcome associated with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Duggal said. “If someone develops chronic lung disease at the age of 40 because they were exposed to this virus, their life for the next 20 to 30 years is going to be negatively impacted. So absolutely, we have to be very mindful that we’re not reckless.”
That also goes for younger people who might spread COVID to a more vulnerable middle-aged or older person, Levin added.
“There is a real responsibility here for a high school student whose parents may be in their 40s or 50s to be careful not to get it, not to just treat it like, “Oh well, I’m safe,'” Levin said. “If it’s a 41-year-old with two kids who gets COVID and you think you might be the one who gave it to him, that would be awful to think about.”
The study was published recently in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have more about groups at increased risk from COVID-19.
SOURCES: Andrew Levin, PhD, professor, economics, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.; Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Baltimore; Abhijit Duggal, MD, critical care doctor, Cleveland Clinic; European Journal of Epidemiology, Dec. 8, 2020