Understanding the risk of COVID-19 for individuals with underlying medical conditions.

Alcatraz, San Francisco. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Alcatraz, San Francisco. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

On Tuesday May 18, Canada reported 25,000 COVID-19 deaths. Unfortunately, this is not the end. There are many hot spots in the country.

Although we are making progress in terms of immunization and controlling the spread of the disease, the worst is not over yet. I feel we need to keep talking about this until we are in full control of the situation. Otherwise, nobody will be able to enjoy the summer or Christmas.

If you do get sick with severe COVID-19 then one or all of the four things will happen. You will be hospitalized, you may end up in intensive care unit, you may end up on a ventilator to help you breathe or you may even die. Nobody wants to be in this situation.

Who is at most risk?

We are learning more about the risk factors for severe COVID-19 outcomes.

Older adults are more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19. More than 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over age 65, and more than 95 per cent of COVID-19 deaths occur in people older than 45. Unfortunately, misinformation, isolation and fear are among the reasons why about 17 per cent of Albertans over 70 haven’t gotten first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Residents of long-term care facilities make up less than one per cent of the population but account for more than 35 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths.

Studies have shown COVID-19 does not affect all population groups equally. Your risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19 goes up if you have long-standing disabilities and systemic health issues and/or belong to a racial and ethnic group. The risk increases as the number of underlying medical conditions increases in an individual.

A study published in Infectious Disease (December 10, 2020) titled Risk Factors Associated with In-hospital Mortality in a US National Sample of Patients with COVID-19 drew the following conclusions:

  1. Thirty per cent of inpatients and 70 per cent of outpatients diagnosed with COVID-19 had no comorbidities. That means these were all healthy individuals.
  2. Most common comorbidities were hypertension 46.7 per cent, hyperlipidemia 28.9 per cent, diabetes 27.9 per cent, and chronic pulmonary disease 16.1 per cent.
  3. Twenty per cent of inpatients with COVID-19 died in the hospital.
  4. Very old age (80 years) was the risk factor most strongly associated with death.
  5. Pre-existing medical conditions significantly are associated with increased odds of in-hospital deaths. Examples are: metastatic cancer, history of heart attack, heart failure, anemia, stroke, dementia, diabetes and COPD.

What can we do?

Take this pandemic seriously. For yourself, your family and the general public. Most people do take this seriously and follow the rules: get vaccinated, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and hand hygiene.

In general, older you are, more health conditions you have, and more severe the conditions, higher the risk of dying. It is very important to take preventive measures.

We are all in this together. One for all and all for one. Stay safe and stay healthy. Follow the rules.

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