The age of an individual does not indicate how likely they are to be infected by SARS-CoV-2, scientists say. But, development of symptoms, progression of the disease, and mortality are age-dependent.
Scientists have reviewed reported cases and testing data of COVID-19 and have determined that changes in the testing rate may be masking the true growth rate and extent of the pandemic.
For epidemics and pandemics such as COVID-19, the response from public health organisations depends on the number of people infected and the rate of increase in infection. Due to the limited number of tests, predicting the actual extent of the pandemic based on available testing capacity is very important.
However, as time passes, the testing capacity increases and testing standards improve, changing previous predictions about the growth and spread of the pandemic.
In the current work, a team of three scientists, including Ryosuke Omori from Hokkaido University, reviewed data collected from Italy, Japan, and California, US, to determine the effect of changes in the testing rates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their analysis, published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in April, shows that the testing rates need to be standardized across the entire period of the pandemic in order to reflect its actual growth rate.
The data for the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases were obtained from governmental and international databases. The period covered was between February 15 and March 11 for Japan and Italy, and between March 1 and March 21 for California.
This data was statistically analyzed. In Italy, the increase in cases was exponential for the entire time period. In Japan, the increase was linear until March 5, and exponential thereafter. In California, there were no cases reported until March 9, but the increase was exponential once cases were reported.
The scientists investigated why a switch between linear and exponential growth in the cumulative number of cases was observed in Japan. They were able to correlate this switch with a rapid increase in the testing rate that occurred between March 3 and March 4.
They suggest that the linear increase in the number of cases prior to March 5 does not reflect the true growth of the pandemic but is an effect of saturated testing capacity and preferential testing for highly suspicious samples. The four-fold increase in testing rate revealed the true extent and spread of the pandemic in Japan.
“The bias created by changes in testing rates has public health implications,” says Omori. “Our work indicates that including data on the testing strategy and ascertainment bias will help to model the growth and spread of the pandemic more accurately.”
Associate Professor Omori, from the Research Center for Zoonoses Control at Hokkaido University, specializes in epidemiological modelling: the use of mathematics and statistics to understand and predict the spread of diseases.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, he has turned his efforts to ascertain the true extent of the spread of the pandemic in Japan and abroad.
Interestingly, a team of scientists, including Associate Professor Ryosuke Omori from the Research Center for Zoonoses Control at Hokkaido University, have modelled available data from Japan, Spain and Italy to show that susceptibility to COVID-19 is independent of age, while occurrence of symptomatic COVID-19, severity and mortality is likely dependent on age.
Their results were published in the journal Scientific Reports on October 6, 2020.
Causes of mortality in elderly individuals may be due to two factors: how likely they are to be infected due to their advanced age (age-dependent susceptibility), which is reflected in the number of cases; and, how likely they will be affected by a severe form of the disease due to their advanced age (age-dependent severity), which is reflected in the mortality rate. These factors are not fully understood for COVID-19.
The scientists chose to analyze data from Italy, Spain and Japan to determine if any relationship between age, susceptibility and severity. These three countries were chosen as they have well recorded, publicly available data.
As of May 2020, the mortality rate (number of deaths per 100,000) was 382.3 for Italy, 507.2 for Spain and 13.2 for Japan. However, despite the wide disparity in mortality rates, the age distribution of mortality (the proportional number of deaths per age group) was similar for these countries.
The scientists developed a mathematical model to calculate susceptibility in each age group under different conditions. They also factored in the estimated human-to-human contact level in each age group, as well as varying restriction levels for outside-home activities in the three countries.
The model showed that the susceptibility has to be unrealistically different between age groups if they assume age does not influence severity and mortality.
On the other hand, the model indicated the age should not influence susceptibility but should negatively influence severity and mortality, to explain the fact that the age distribution of mortality is similar between the three countries.
Ryosuke Omori, from the Research Center for Zoonoses Control at Hokkaido University, specializes in epidemiological modelling: the use of mathematics and statistics to understand and predict the spread of diseases. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, he has turned his efforts to ascertaining the true extent of the spread of the pandemic in Japan and abroad.