Liam Fox is a former Secretary of State for International Trade, and is MP for North Somerset.

The Italian authorities released a batch of information this week about the victims who have died of coronavirus in Italy.

The current level stands at over 3400 dead with around 41,000 confirmed cases of the illness.  The latest data, however, gives us a much better picture about those at greatest risk. Here is some of it:

  • The median age of those infected is 63 but the average age of those who have died is 79.5.
  • Of those that have died only three victims, 0.8 per cent of the total, had no previous pathology.
  • 25.1 per cent of those who died had one other illness, 25.6 per cent had two other illnesses and 48.5 per cent had three or more illnesses.
  • Over 75 per cent of those who died had high blood pressure, around 35 per cent had diabetes and around 35 per cent suffered from other forms of heart disease.
  •  All Italy’s victims under the age of 40 have been males with serious existing medical conditions.
  • 45 per cent of patients do not exhibit anything more than mild symptoms.
  • 10 per cent of those with the illness display no symptoms at all.
  • 22 per cent of infections have occurred in the age range 19 to 50.

What does this tell us?  Among other things, it tells us that elderly patients who have coexisting cardiovascular problems, particularly high blood pressure, are at particular risk.

This seems to be even more true amongst males and smokers.  It also tells us that there will be a large portion of the population who may feel well or have minimal symptoms who might be spreading the infection without knowing it.

This makes it particularly important that they stay away from those who are likely to be more vulnerable.  This is best done by observing the advice around social spacing.  I think we need to shift the emphasis in our public health messaging away from how we stop becoming infected ourselves and start to focus on how we stop infecting those who might be at particular risk. Less “me” and more us”.

We do not have an update yet on gender differences, but early evidence from China showed that there was a strong difference in mortality between men and women with older men significantly more likely to die (men over 75 were twice as likely to die as women in the same age group).

This may be as a result of a higher level of coexisting conditions in men.  It may also be as a result of cultural and behavioural factors such as smoking.  Official figures show that 90 per cent of smokers in China are male but this is likely to be over-reported as smoking is regarded as socially unacceptable among women.

This gender difference replicates what was seen in both SARS and MERS.  If this difference is replicated in other data then it becomes much more important to encourage men to seek early medical intervention (they tend to seek medical help later than women).

This article is a cross-post from Dr Fox’s blog.