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Outside the Lab Training and education, Microbiology and immunology, COVID-19

Why Didn’t They Teach This in Med School?

How would you rate your understanding of epidemiologic terms? 

Reading about COVID-19, you may have encountered the four parameters mentioned in this question. Which one indicates the risk unit defined as one-in-a-million chance of death?

A. Micromort 
B. Microprobability  
C. R0
D. Rt

Read on to see the answer!

Answer: A. Micromort

Micromorts are used to measure the risk inherent in various daily activities. A microprobability is a one-in-a million chance of any given event; a micromort is the microprobability of death.

For an average American, the risk of dying of unnatural causes is one in a million per day, or one minimort (1). The risk of dying under general anesthesia is five per million, or five minimorts. For COVID-19, the exact micromort value cannot yet be calculated – and it depends on many variables.

R0, a measure of microbial spread, is defined as the expected number of secondary infectious cases produced by a primary infectious case. To control an epidemic, R0 must be brought below 1. Rt (the effective reproduction number) determines the potential for epidemic spread at a specific time t under the control measures in place. Social interaction during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has dramatically reduced Rt in many countries (2).

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  1. DC Roberts (2020). Available at: 
  2. TV Inglesby, JAMA, [Epub ahead of print] (2020). PMID: 32356869.
About the Author
Ivan Damjanov

Ivan Damjanov is Professor Emeritus of Pathology at the University of Kansas, Kansas City, USA.

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