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Number of COVID-19 deaths likely much higher than records show, experts say

Experts say the number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely much higher than recorded because death certificates don’t always list the virus as the ultimate cause of a fatality.

A geriatrician at Sinai Health in Toronto says deaths that have been recorded as a result of COVID-19 only reflect those who were tested for it.

Dr. Nathan Stall says there are people who could have died from COVID-19, but they wouldn’t be counted because people are rarely tested after death.

The underlying cause of death in 92% of 9,500 fatalities was recorded on medical certificates as COVID-19 in a November study by Statistics Canada.

<who> Photo credit: 123RF

In the remaining 8% of cases, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other chronic conditions were most commonly found to be the underlying cause of death.

Stall says there needs to be better education and a bit more quality control in how deaths are recorded.

Dr. Roger Wong, a clinical professor of geriatric medicine at the University of British Columbia, says an incomplete or inaccurate record of mortality data can have public health implications.

He says scientists and researchers will get a better understanding of COVID-19 in people with long-standing health conditions by recording as many details as possible in death certificates.

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