COVID-19 - what does it mean in terms of years of life lost?

Issued: Thu, 23 Apr 2020 12:37:00 BST

The global toll of deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic rises on a daily basis.

To date most reports have focussed on counting the number of deaths – but there has been little mention of years of life lost through COVID-19, which could give a more realistic measure of the impact of Covid19.

Now, however, a team led by Dr David McAllister, Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, University of Glasgow and Honorary Consultant in Public Health Medicine at Public Health Scotland, has analysed the estimated years of life lost due to COVID-19.

“As most people dying with COVID-19 are older with underlying chronic conditions, some have speculated that the impact of the condition may have been overstated, and that the actual number of years of life lost as a result of COVID-19 are relatively low,” said Dr McAllister.

“This new analysis found that death from COVID-19 results in over 10 years of life lost per person, even after taking account of the typical number and type of chronic conditions found in people dying of COVID-19.  Among people dying of COVID-19, the number of years of life lost PER PERSON appear similar to diseases such as coronary heart disease.   Information such as this is important to ensure governments and the public do not wrongly underestimate the effects of COVID-19 on individuals,” he added.

The study reports estimated years of life lost due to COVID-19, before and after adjustment for number and type of chronic conditions.  The researchers used information from Italy on the age at which people with COVID-19 died, and the number and type of chronic conditions they had. The team then used World Health Organisation life tables as well as data from SAIL (Secure Anonymised Information Linkage), a large UK healthcare database, to estimate how long people with these characteristics might otherwise have been expected to live.

Their report, published in Wellcome Open Research but not yet peer-reviewed, states: “Among patients dying of COVID-19, there appears to be a considerable burden in terms of years of life lost (YLL), commensurate with diseases such as coronary heart disease or pneumonia. While media coverage of the pandemic has focused heavily on COVID-19 affecting people with ‘underlying health conditions’, adjustment for number and type of long-term conditions only modestly reduces the estimated years of life lost due to COVID-19 compared to estimates based only on age and sex. Public health agencies and governments should report on YLL, ideally adjusting for the presence of underlying long-term conditions, to allow the public and policy-makers to better understand the burden of this disease”