Undiagnosed coronavirus is a ‘likely explanation’ for some of the excess deaths not directly linked to Covid-19, the Office for National Statistics has found.
ONS figures show that there have been more than 46,000 excess deaths in England and Wales since the start of the deadly outbreak in comparison to previous years.
New analysis found that 28% of those excess deaths, registered between March 7 and May 1, did not involve coronavirus – a total of 12,900 deaths.
The ONS said that despite coronavirus not being listed on the death certificate of those 12,900 deaths, it is ‘likely’ that those people will have had undiagnosed Covid-19.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and symptoms mainly indicating old age account for two thirds of the total number of non-Covid-19 excess deaths in England and Wales from March 7 to May 1, the ONS said.
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There were 5,404 more deaths than expected due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – a rise of 52% compared with the average number of deaths for this period over five years.
And 1,567 excess deaths occurred due to ‘symptoms signs and ill-defined conditions’ – a 77.8% rise from the five-year average.
Data also showed that non-Covid-19 deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in women rose to more than double that of men in the week ending April 17.
Nick Stripe, head of health analysis at the ONS, said: ‘Dementia increases are so sharp it’s implausible that they are unrelated to Covid-19.
‘They generally affect the very old, they would tend to impact women to a greater extent than men simply due to pop structure.
‘Especially once care home epidemics took hold with limited testing.’
Undiagnosed Covid-19 could ‘help explain the rise’ in the deaths of frail elderly people with underlying conditions, particularly women and those in care homes, the ONS added.
It said: ‘The absence of large rises in deaths due to this cause that mention conditions that could exhibit similar symptoms to Covid-19 suggests that if Covid-19 is involved in the increase in deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer disease, the usual symptoms of Covid-19 were not apparent.
‘This could fit with recent clinical observations, where atypical hypoxia has been observed in some Covid-19 patients.
‘In someone with advanced dementia and Alzheimer disease, the symptoms of Covid-19 might be difficult to distinguish from their underlying illness, especially with the possibility of communication difficulties.
‘Care home residents have experienced changes to their usual routine as a result of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Adverse effects of such changes cannot be discounted as another possible explanation of the increase in the number of deaths in care homes.’
Today’s release is the first detailed analysis from the ONS looking at the increased number of deaths during the pandemic where coronavirus was not mentioned on the death certificate.
The highest number of excess non-Covid-19 deaths have taken place in care homes, with a weekly maximum of 2,975 of these deaths being registered in the seven days to April 17.
Non-Covid-19 deaths in private homes saw a separate peak in the week ending April 24, when 1,760 were registered.
The ONS said that if patients have been discharged from hospital sooner than they may have been typically, because of pressure on the NHS’s resources, this ‘could have resulted in some deaths occurring in care homes or private homes that would have otherwise occurred in hospital’.
It added that the reported lower rates of testing in all settings outside hospitals ‘could lead to some deaths in other locations involving Covid-19 not having Covid-19 listed on the death certificate as a contributory factor, leading to apparently higher non-Covid-19 excess deaths’.
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