Most COVID-19 cases are mild, but for the elderly or for those with underlying health issues, the virus poses a much higher risk, potentially causing symptoms severe enough to require hospitalization or that could result in death.
So, what exactly are these underlying health conditions everyone keeps talking about, what can those who have them do to protect themselves, and what can the rest of us do to protect them?
1. A Compromised Immune System
Those with cancer who are receiving chemotherapy or radiation, those receiving therapy for leukemia or lymphoma, and those receiving bone marrow transplants are all more susceptible to catching pneumonia, a common outcome among the more serious cases of coronavirus. Also, anyone taking high doses of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressant medications, such as in the treatment of HIV or AIDS, are at higher risk.
2. Certain Blood Disorders
Those with blood disorders such as sickle cell disease, or those who are on blood thinners, are generally more susceptible to severe illness as it relates to any infection or virus, and coronavirus is no exception.
3. Chronic Kidney Disease
According to Kidney International, the journal of the International Society of Nephrology, those with chronic kidney disease have been more susceptible to acute kidney injury and death in viruses like SARS and MERS-CoV. And though “early reports suggested a lower incidence of acute kidney injury in those with COVID-19, later reports “have shown higher frequency of renal abnormalities.”
4. Current or Recent Pregnancy in the Last Two Weeks
The CDC notes that pregnant women’s bodies undergo changes that “may increase their risk of some infections. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness.”
5. Metabolic or Endocrine Disorders, Such As Diabetes
In China, those infected with COVID-19 who also had diabetes experienced more severe symptoms and complications, as well as higher rates of death, than those without diabetes or other underlying illness. The American Diabetes Association also points out that age and other complications along with a diabetes diagnosis predict more about how a person’s body will respond to COVID-19. Those with diabetes who are already dealing with other diabetes-related health issues will likely experience more complications than those whose diabetes are well-controlled and who are otherwise healthy.
6. Chronic Liver Disease
Those with cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis are more susceptible to complication and acute symptoms related to coronavirus.
7. Heart Disease
Those with heart disease, such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, and coronary artery disease are at higher risk. The American College of Cardiology states, “There have been reports of acute cardiac injury, arrhythmias, hypotension, tachycardia, and a high proportion of concomitant cardiovascular disease in infected individuals, particularly those who require more intensive care.”
8. Lung Disease
This includes asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema, and other chronic conditions of the lungs. Serious cases of coronavirus often lead to acute pneumonia, and respiratory conditions can impair the lungs’ capacity to fight off the virus.
9. Neurological and Neurodevelopment Conditions
According to the CDC, this includes “disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury.”
If you have one of these conditions …
If you or anyone in your family has any of these conditions, isolate yourself along with everyone in your household as much as possible. If you find yourself starting to run low on supplies, join local Facebook groups where you can find people who would be happy to run errands for you and leave supplies on your doorstep.
Do your part, even if you don’t have any of these conditions.
Even if you’re young and perfectly healthy, do your part to flatten the curve. Understand that there is more and more evidence that coronavirus can be carried asymptomatically and spread from person to person without anyone realizing it. Practice social distancing as much as possible. And keep in mind that all of the above conditions carry with them the added risk of hospitals and healthcare facilities being short on staff and/or overwhelmed by patients needing care.
As a reminder, these are the CDC recommendations for all households:
– Stay up to date on COVID-19 in your community — follow your local newspaper online or join a local Facebook group that shares information and resources with one another.
– Wash hands and otherwise practice safe hygiene — disinfect high-touch surfaces often.
– Have a household plan ready and put it into action.
– Gather a 30-day supply of any medicines your family may need.
– If you do have at-risk individuals in your home, they should remain at home.
– Those who are not high risk should adapt to disruptions in routine activities (e.g., school and/or work closures) by using remote participation such as telework where feasible, or online classes or home study (e-learning).
Also understand that if you are able to practice social distancing, it’s all the more important for you to do so because there are so many people who can’t. Grocery store employees are the new essential workers we never imagined would be called upon to be on the front lines of a pandemic doing their jobs, so the rest of us can eat and not run out of toilet paper. Anyone in the medical profession has to keep working. Law enforcement has to keep working. These individuals are increasing their chances of contracting coronavirus — whether symptomatic or not — just by being out and about, doing the jobs we need them to do.
Those of us who stay in place and practice social distancing are protecting not only the most vulnerable among us, but also the people who continue to do the necessary work that keeps our worlds and healthcare systems running.