What Is The Infection-Fatality Rate Of COVID-19?

A systematic review and meta-analysis of published research data on COVID-19 infection-fatality rates

Pictured: It’s red so you know it’s bad Source: Pexels
Except to the last question — turns out the answers are “yes” and “no”, respectively Source: Pexels

“How likely am I to die if I get COVID-19?”

It’s very hard to draw good estimates from bad data.

It’s like the TV show Numbers, except instead of actors playing at being mathematicians it’s literally everybody with an opinion

Getting The Numbers

The first part of understanding the evidence is to read it, and the first part of that is finding it all. In this case, I decided to run a fairly simple systematic review and meta-analysis, which is a type of scientific study that collates all the research on a topic into one estimate.

Like this, but with more computer screens. Source: Pexels
A PRISMA flow diagram of the search methods

The Results

From the 13 studies — including 4 models, 4 observational studies, and 5 pre-prints of one kind or another — there was an overall estimate of 0.75% infection-fatality rate, with the 95% confidence interval ranging from 0.49% to 1.01%.

Forest plot of the meta-analysis — you can see the overall estimate of 0.75% (0.49–1.01%) down at the bottom
Forest plot of meta-analysis by country
Forest plot of the meta-analysis by month

What This All Means

Which brings us to the conclusions of this little piece of epidemiological research. Firstly, this isn’t a formal systematic review, and it’s very unlikely that I’ve captured every estimate out there. I can only read English and French, and there are at least a few papers that I found published in other languages that looked like they might speak to infection-fatality rate. There is also a vast amount of “grey” data out there — published estimates on government websites that are hard to get at unless you know exactly where on the web they live.