Experts have been looking for patterns in who gets how sick from COVID-19 since the first outbreaks. From early in the pandemic, it was clear that increasing age and obesity could predispose people to severe COVID-19, which has come under increasing attention with the news that President Donald Trump—age 74 and technically obese—tested positive for COVID-19.
While COVID-19 doesn’t follow the same pattern every time—people who don’t fall in these risk categories can also develop severe COVID-19—the CDC and other experts say the following risk factors do put you at higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus:
The CDC says that having obesity (a BMI of 30 or above) may triple the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19 infection. It’s linked to impaired immune function, decreased lung capacity that can make ventilation difficult.
An analysis in the journal Obesity Reviews suggested that having obesity could increase your chances of dying of COVID-19 by nearly 50 percent. Obesity is linked to other health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, which may help explain the greater likelihood of severe disease. But experts still point out that obesity is an independent risk factor.
The CDC says that “increasing age” is a risk factor for severe COVID-19. It doesn’t set a threshold for exactly at what threshold your risk starts increasing. But it has reported that eight out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths have been in adults age 65 and older. Age is an independent risk factor, according to the CDC, which also points out that part of the vulnerability in this group may come from the increased likelihood of underlying medical conditions.
Keep in mind that younger people can still die of COVID-19-related causes, and can also suffer from many complications including stroke and myocarditis (inflammation of the heart)—in fact, one report suggested that 15 percent of Big 10 athletes with a COVID diagnosis reported this heart problem.
Other underlying medical conditions
The CDC also recently updated a list of underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of severe illness. It added cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, weakened immune system from an organ transplant, serious heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathy, sickle cell disease, and type 2 diabetes.
It also suggested that people with these conditions might be at increased risk: asthma, cerebrovascular disease, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure, neurologic conditions such as dementia, people in an immunocompromised state, liver disease, pregnancy, pulmonary fibrosis, thalassemia, and type 1 diabetes. It also puts smoking on the list of risk factors for severe COVID-19. Here is the scientific evidence behind its decisions on this.
Being in a racial or ethnic minority group
It’s been documented that some racial and ethnic minority groups have increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19-related causes. The CDC says that “inequities in the social determinants of health, such as poverty and healthcare access, affecting these groups are interrelated and influence a wide range of health and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.”
Numerous factors likely go into this increased risk, including discrimination, healthcare access and utilization, occupation, gaps in education and income and housing.
Other people who need to take special precautions
While everyone needs to take precautions to avoid getting infected with the coronavirus and infecting others, certain groups may need to be even more diligent, including people with disabilities, people living in rural communities, people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Find the whole list here.
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