One of the biggest mysteries of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is how symptoms can appear differently in people. While some people are infected and have no symptoms, others require hospitalization. Sadly, for others, the disease can be fatal. By predicting which people are most susceptible to severe illness, researchers can advise the right groups to take extra precautions and be vigilant.
A May 2020 study published in the British Medical Journal shed some light on which infected patients were more likely to develop severe illness from the coronavirus. Data was gathered from 208 acute care hospitals in England, Wales, and Scotland from about 20,000 coronavirus patients. Researchers and health care professionals have since corroborated their own findings with this study.
Knowing who is most susceptible to severe coronavirus symptoms, and why, can help physicians determine the right treatments for their patients. It can also assist people in making personal risk assessments for their daily lives. Here are eight risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19.
18. Older Age Group
The body weakens with age, and the coronavirus takes advantage of this weakness. According to the Mayo Clinic, 80% of deaths from the coronavirus are in people 65 and up. For older adults with other risk factors or underlying health conditions, the risk of death from the disease is even more significant. For nursing home residents, the risk is even higher.
Adults in a nursing home commonly have underlying medical conditions and are also older. Also, the close quarters and shared staff in a nursing home make it difficult to prevent infections.
17. A Weak Immune System
With a healthy immune system, the body is more likely to succeed at fighting off infections. However, for those with weakened immune systems, fighting off infections, especially something as transmissible as COVID-19, can be tough. A weakened immune system may occur in many conditions:
- Bone marrow transplants
- Long-term prednisone use
- Cancer treatments
- Organ transplants
- Cancer treatments
16. Lung Problems
COVID-19 is mainly a respiratory illness, so lungs that already have issues can be susceptible to the virus. The medications used to treat these lung problems can also become risk factors, so people with lung problems must consult a physician regarding COVID. Some lung conditions that place people most at risk are the following:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Lung cancer
- Cystic fibrosis
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Heavy smoking or vaping
15. Cardiovascular Disease
The heart works in conjunction with the lungs to provide the body with oxygen. When the lungs are hurt, the heart can also be affected. The heart has to work harder, causing strain. Cardiovascular conditions can also prevent the body from fighting off the coronavirus, putting people more at risk. Lastly, the coronavirus may cause heart failure and arrhythmias even in people without heart diseases. Some of the following cardiovascular diseases are:
- Heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Pulmonary hypertension
14. Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity
Both type 2 diabetes and obesity can lower a person’s immune system. People who have type 2 diabetes are more prone to infections in general, because of the amount of sugar in their blood. Obesity can impair the lungs and heart as well as the immune system.
13. Chronic Kidney or Liver Disease
The kidneys and liver help to filter toxins out of the body. People with chronic kidney or liver disease may have difficulty filtering out the unhealthy particles generated from the virus. People who have had kidney transplants are most susceptible because they also have a weakened immune system.
12. Blood Disorders
People who have blood disorders may have a difficult time fighting off the coronavirus. COVID-19 may affect the blood due to the formation of blood clots and reduced oxygen.
The following diseases are examples of blood disorders:
- Sickle cell disease (SCD)
Although cancer can weaken the immune system, the treatments used for cancer may also become risk factors for severe illness.
10. How Can People with Risk Factors Stay Healthy?
If you have any of these risk factors, don’t be dismayed — be informed. Arming yourself with knowledge and taking the right precautions can help get you the best outcomes. As of this moment, there is no vaccine available for the coronavirus. This means that everyone is susceptible to the disease. To prevent infection, you can take steps to reduce your risks for exposure.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides detailed guidelines to help keep the risk of infection low:
9. Stay Away From Large Gatherings
Although it’s tempting to see family, friends, and church groups, the risk for coronavirus infection grows exponentially in crowds — especially indoors and unmasked. Because the COVID can spread through droplets from the mouth and nose, it’s crucial to wear masks. Even breathing and speaking can expel these droplets.
8. Remain More Than 6 Feet Away From Others
COVID droplets from you, or other people, can travel for a distance of about 6 feet. Staying more than 6 feet away from people who are not part of your household can help mitigate your risk of infection.
7. Stay Home, If Possible
Remaining at home can reduce your chances of exposure to the virus. If you can work remotely, do so. Ask someone else in your household to run your errands or groceries, or have food delivered to your home. Although it may seem extreme, these are extreme times. Keeping yourself and others safe is the priority.
6. Wash Your Hands Often With Soap and Water, or Use an Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer
The coronavirus remains on non-porous surfaces for long periods. These surfaces include plastic, wood, and metal — most of the things people touch often. However, the virus needs to enter the body somehow, like the mouth, nose, or eyes. Removing bacteria and viruses from hands can keep COVID-19 from infecting the body.
5. In Public Areas, Use a Mask That Sufficiently Keeps Small Particles Out
A mask that you can see through, like lace or mesh netting, will not prevent you from getting or spreading the coronavirus. Wearing a suitable mask helps keep viruses in the air out of your nose and mouth.
4. Try Not to Touch Your Eyes, Nose, or Mouth
Avoiding touching our faces is hard, especially if wiping your eyes or rubbing your nose is a habit. However, the coronavirus’s main openings to get into the body are on our faces. And, as stated previously, the virus could potentially be on our hands. Getting into the habit of keeping hands away from our faces can reduce the chances of infection.
In your home, surfaces like the light switches, handles, doorknobs, and electronics can collect germs. Your phone may collect germs throughout the day, even if you wash your hands.
3. Stay on Top of Your Vaccinations
Although current vaccinations aren’t for COVID-19, they can prevent you from getting other infections that can lower your immunity. As stated before, a weakened immune system can make you susceptible to COVID.
Use Telehealth Services When Possible
Because of the pandemic, more doctors are open to conducting telehealth services. Through telehealth, you can still make an appointment to see your doctor. Rather than meeting in person, however, it’s done over video chat or the telephone. Using telehealth keeps you from being unnecessarily exposed to the coronavirus. You can see your doctor from the comfort of your own home.
2. Stay in Touch With Your Physician
Although it might seem easier to pretend that you’re not in a higher risk bracket, resist that instinct. Keep your appointments with your doctor, and take your medications as prescribed. Let your doctor know if you have any concerns or experience any changes.
1. Don’t Worry. Be Happy
Yes, you should worry — or be wary. But not enough to compromise your mental health. A healthy dose of rationality, a sprinkle of optimism, and a liberal dose of precaution will help keep you safe. There is still a life to live. Spending it wiping down every surface we encounter and ignoring other people is not healthy.
How can you manage your coronavirus risk and still live life? Be creative and know that the pandemic is temporary. The coronavirus may make the old way of doing things we enjoy dangerous for a while, but it’s up to us to find new ways of being happy. You can achieve social interactions online or even outdoors, with a mask and 6 feet away. Enjoy what you can. Taking care of both your mental and physical health will get you through the next year.