Using a computer model, researchers involved in the study at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, simulated the probabilities of contracting COVID-19, dying from the virus and dying for another reason during a one-year period.
The researchers then calculated the impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy. Through the model, they determined that infection rates of 2% would cause a drop in life expectancy in countries where average life expectancy is high. The decline would be even greater at higher infection rates.
"At 10% prevalence, the loss in life expectancy is likely to be above one year in high life-expectancy countries such as those in Europe and North America. At 50%, it would translate into three to nine years of life lost in high life-expectancy regions. In less developed regions, the impact is smaller given that there is already lower survival at older ages," study leader Guillaume Marois, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, told UPI.
Specifically, the study found that a 50% prevalence of COVID-19 infection could cause life expectancy to drop by three to nine years in North America and Europe, three to eight years in Latin America and the Caribbean, two to seven years in Southeastern Asia and one to four years in sub-Saharan Africa.
"However, even in the most affected regions, the life expectancy will likely recover once the pandemic is over," Marois added.
According to study co-author Sergei Scherbov, it took Europe decades for its average life expectancy to increase by six years, from 72.8 years in 1990 to 78.7 years in 2019.
"COVID-19 could thus set back this indicator in 2020 to the values observed some time ago," Scherbov noted.
"However, we do not know what is going to happen further. In many countries fatality from COVID is strongly decreasing, probably because the protocol of COVID treatment became better defined," he added.
The study’s findings come as the US’ COVID-19 death toll surpassed 200,000. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the current life expectancy in the US is 78.6 years.