Health officials in China, racing to try to contain a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak, are principally recording severe cases of disease, using a case definition that cannot capture patients with mild illness, according to experts familiar with the surveillance efforts.
The approach, the experts told STAT, is likely resulting in both an underestimate in the total number of cases and flawed assumptions about fatality rates calculated by those who ignore the repeated caution that it’s too soon to do that math.
The experts were quick to note that the Chinese are not willfully underreporting cases. Rather, the approach is a testament to how challenging data collection can be during the early days of an epidemic. When thousands of sick people show up at hospitals looking for care, there is no time to go searching for people who have mild symptoms and who have stayed home.
“I think right now things are so chaotic in China it may be hard to collect data on the whole spectrum of illness,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Officially, an estimated 20% of cases in China are…
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