COVID-19: Death toll reaches 1,369 and cases jump to 60,000 - the record spikes in deaths and infections explained
A record number of deaths and infections from COVID-19 were announced by Chinese health officials late on the 12th of February.
A record number of deaths and infections from COVID-19 (the new name for the novel coronavirus ) were announced by Chinese health officials late on the 12th of February. A staggering 242 deaths and nearly 15,000 new infections were reported for the 24 hour period. This takes the death toll to over 1,369 and total cases over 60,329.
What caused the sudden spike? A change in diagnostic methodology meant that cases that were earlier not considered confirmed have now been included in the count. It is not uncommon to change diagnostic criteria during a new outbreak, but the sheer number of new cases and its implications raise alarm bells about the true severity and spread of the disease.
What is the new diagnostic method?
So far it has been a struggle to get enough test kits to hospitals and diagnostic centres in some parts of the world. Hospitals have had to send samples to centralized labs to get verified. This is a time and resource-intensive process; the public has had to wait several days to get a diagnosis.
The nucleic acid test kits cross-check the genetic sequence of a sample by comparing it to that of the virus. If the genetic fingerprint matches, it is a confirmed case of the virus. However, reports from across the world, including corroborating information from the CDC in the US, suggest that the tests are unreliable and can return false negatives. People who have tested negative the first two times have returned positive tests on third attempts after symptoms appeared. The test kits have been suspect for a while.
The new method relies on CT scans of the chest to come to a diagnosis. Since the virus produces symptoms of pneumonia, scans that show abnormalities in the lungs will now be considered confirmed cases. While nucleic acid tests may continue to happen in the background, basing a diagnosis on CT scans will save time. Again, there is a possibility of misdiagnosis as an abnormal scan does not necessarily mean a confirmed case of coronavirus .
135 of the 242 deaths reported in the last 24 hours are attributed to the new methodology.
What are the implications and ramifications of this change?
For starters, the fact that test kits tend to be faulty raises concerns about the accuracy of screening tests carried out in China and across the world. If reporting has been faulty, there are perhaps more cases than previously thought. Dr Tedros, the Director-General of the WHO warned that the cases picked up outside mainland China may just be the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and it won’t take much to bump up the number of infections.
The move may also invite more criticism of the officials handling of the situation and further strain the health system that has already been pushed to the limit. It was reported earlier that those who had tested negative for the disease but were still unwell were turned away from hospitals in China as they were running out of space and resources. Time will tell how costly those decisions were as the epidemiology of the disease will become known.
The road ahead
Some experts believe that with the warmer season around the corner, the virus may begin to die down. It is too early to say if it will pan out this way, however. As for now, an expert committee put together by the WHO is in Beijing, developing a response and research plan. Scores of pharmacological companies are in the hunt for a vaccine and philanthropic organizations are pumping money and resources in search of solutions. The wheels of global healthcare are moving. One hopes that there will be answers soon.
For more information, read our article on Coronavirus Infection: Symptoms, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention.
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