Covid-19 Could Lead To Declines In Life Expectancy

BY admin September 22, 2020 Technology 2 views

A new global study examining period life expectancy finds that the pandemic could lead to a short-term decline in life expectancy in many areas of the world.

A new global study examining period life expectancy finds that the pandemic could lead to a short-term decline in life expectancy in many areas of the world.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, shows that unless we can contain the spread of Covid-19, it will most likely result in a reduction in life expectancy in those regions that are most affected by the disease. The research looked at the effects of Covid-19-related deaths on life expectancy in four large regions involving different rates of infection among different age groups.

“Our study provides the first assessment of the potential impact of COVID-19 on period life expectancies according to a range of scenarios of prevalence rates over a one-year period,” said Guillaume Marois, the lead author of the study in a press release.

The concept of period life expectancy is simple: it’s a measure of the number of years that an average person could expect to live. Factors that play a role in this number include better healthcare, improved socioeconomic conditions, along with gains in education. We typically look at life expectancy as a way to assess human progress and gains across different countries and geographic regions. In fact, over the past 160 years in the U.S., life expectancy (from birth) has risen from 39.4 years in 1860 to 78.9 years in 2020.

For the study, researchers designed a microsimulation model that mimics the probability of contracting Covid-19, the probability of death from Covid-19, and the chances of dying from another cause over a period of one year, accounting for differential fatality rates from Covid-19 across various age groups. Researchers then calculated the effect of Covid-19 on life expectancy after analyzing life tables and life expectancies from the simulation and then comparing these with the data used for the initial calculations.

The researchers found that at very low rates of prevalence (<1-2%), Covid-19 would not affect life expectancy. However, at prevalence rates above 2%, it could lead to a drop in life expectancy in countries and regions where average life expectancy is high (around 80 years of age). And at higher rates of prevalence, the effect on life expectancy would be more significant, particularly in North America and Europe.

“At 10% prevalence, the loss in life expectancy is likely to be above one year in high life-expectancy countries such as those in Europe and North America. At 50%, it would translate into three to nine years of life lost in high life-expectancy regions. In less developed regions, the impact is smaller given that there is already lower survival at older ages,” said Marois. “However, even in the most affected regions, the life expectancy will likely recover once the pandemic is over.”

Amesh Adalja, M.D., an infectious disease physician and Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, not involved in the study, explained that “while in many ways COVID-19, by causing deaths in people that are older, is a very different pandemic than the 1918 influenza pandemic (where the average age of death was in the 20s) it may have an impact on life expectancy on high lifespan countries.”

Sergei Scherbov, another researcher involved in the study, explained that “it took Europe almost 30 years for average life expectancy at birth to increase by six years–from 72.8 years in 1990 to 78.6 years in 2019. COVID-19 could thus set back this indicator in 2020 to the values observed some time ago. However, we do not know what is going to happen further–in many countries fatality from COVID is strongly decreasing, probably because the protocol of COVID treatment became better defined.”

In a nutshell, the study illustrates the potential for outbreaks of disease, and pandemics in particular (Covid-19), to reduce gains in life expectancy that have accrued with advances in medical care, sanitation, and clean drinking water. It’s a cautionary tale, which makes mitigation measures (lockdowns, social distancing and wearing masks) as well as adherence to rapid testing, contact tracing and isolation protocols vital to reducing infections, complications and deaths.

“These ‘what-if’ scenarios can give policy-relevant information on what could potentially happen to life expectancy under different levels of prevalence, which vary with public health strategies to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19. We show that if the virus spread widely in the population, for instance, in the absence of any lockdowns and social distance measures, this could result in a notable drop in period life expectancy,” offered Raya Muttarak, a study co-author.

But approval of new therapeutics, including antivirals and anticipation of a viable vaccine candidate in the U.S. in 2021 has the potential to negate short term losses in life expectancy as a result of Covid-19. Enforcement of social distancing guidelines and a nationwide universal masking policy could also greatly help to reduce cases, hospitalizations and deaths prior to widespread vaccination which could take many years in the U.S., and much longer globally.

At the same time, it’s also vital that key public health agencies–the CDC and FDA–renew their pledge to the American people to promote policies that safeguard the lives of citizens. We should not allow politics to override science, compromising decades-long increases in life expectancy achieved through sound public health principles and adherence to evidence-based medicine.


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