The Deception of Mortality Rate

What’s more deadly—COVID-19 or the seasonal flu?

Oddly, there are two distinct ways to look at the issue of deadly.

One can either rely on statistics i.e. mortality rate, the percentage of infections that lead to death or to view deadly as an absolute—i.e. the actual number of deaths.

Which gives a better sense of deadly?

It depends.

Which mode of travel is deadlier: air or land?

The Airline industry contends air travel is far safer than land travel—and they use the absolute number of deaths to prove their case.

But is that an accurate measure of safety?

By orders of magnitude, more people travel by land, thus comparing absolute numbers is at best misleading.

Ironically, using percentages to compare the deadliness of different pathogens is just as misleading.

“Lies, damn lies and statistics” is a well worn adage. Like all adages it comes from observed behavior.

Regrettably, too often statistics are used to deceive, to present an argument that supports one particular narrative, when hard numbers may contradict the very same narrative.

On the other hand, with a pathogen like Ebola, where the rate of death to infection is on the order of 90%, presenting the death rate as a percentage makes sense.

In this case, the percentage gives us the insight that if one contracts Ebola, their life is in severe jeopardy.

So, what about COVID-19?

Should we be fixated on mortality rate—the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 divided by the total number of COVID-19 infections?

What information do we actually gain from the mortality rate?

Very little.

The percentage in the case of COVID-19 or the seasonal flu is largely arbitrary.

We don’t know, with any certitude, the denominator.

How many actual cases of COVID-19 infection will there be?

For that matter, how many cases of the seasonal flu will occur?

We simply don’t know and will never know with any degree of confidence.

In the case of the seasonal flu, the mortality rate has been reported to be .1% in the U.S..

In 2018-19, 61,200 deaths were attributed to the seasonal flu in the U.S., in the previous year the death toll was much higher at 79,400—at 0.1% mortality rate that would equate to 61 million infections in 2018-19, and 79 million in 2017-18.

The officially reported number of infections were 42.9 million in 2018-19 and 48.8 million the previous year.

So how much stock should we put in the mortality rate?

To date, the death rates between the flu and COVID-19 appear to be in the same neighborhood—therefore, the best comparison is to use the hard numbers of actual deaths.

In essence, we should use hard numbers not statistics in order to compare apples to apples—not apples to pineapples.

With an average annual death toll, over the past two years exceeding 60,000/year, attributed to the seasonal flu—of the two viruses, it becomes apparent influenza by far is more deadly than Covid-19.

Oddly, you wouldn’t come to that conclusion by following the media and government sources.