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CDC report: People with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions at greatest risk of developing severe COVID-19

Patients with an underlying health issue were more likely than the others in the study to require hospitalization and intensive care for COVID-19.

hospital ship USNS Mercy
The study showed that among the hospitalized patients, 71 percent had a pre-existing condition.
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Abigayle Lutz

Reports from China and Italy have suggested for weeks that people with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19.

New research published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the same appears to be true in the United States.

CDC researchers examined 7,162 U.S. cases of COVID-19 for which underlying health information was available. They found that 38 percent of those patients had a pre-existing condition, especially diabetes, cardiovascular disease and chronic lung disease (such as asthma or emphysema).

The researchers then looked to see if the patients with an underlying health issue had been more likely than the others to require hospitalization and intensive care for COVID-19.

They were.

The study showed that among the hospitalized patients, 71 percent had a pre-existing condition. And among the hospitalized patients who ended up in intensive care, 78 percent had an underlying health issue.

More specifically, of the 457 people in the study who required intensive care, 32 percent had diabetes, 29 percent had cardiovascular disease, 21 percent had a chronic lung disease and 12 percent had chronic kidney disease.

“These preliminary findings suggest that in the United States, persons with underlying health conditions or other recognized risk factors for severe outcomes appear to be at a higher risk for severe disease from COVID-19 than are persons without these conditions,” the CDC researchers write in their report.

“It is not yet known whether the severity or level of control of underlying health conditions affects the risk for severe disease associated with COVID-19,” they add.

It’s also important to point out, however, that of the COVID-19 patients in the study who ended up intensive care, 22 percent had no history of a chronic health condition.

Healthy people develop severe symptoms, too.

Take protective steps

These findings come with several limitations, as the researchers point out. Most notably, testing is not widespread in the United States, so this analysis is likely biased toward more severe cases. In addition, the patient data the researchers relied on was not always complete.

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Still, the findings are consistent with those from other countries and “highlight the importance of COVID-19 prevention in persons with underlying conditions,” the CDC researchers emphasize.

Such prevention is not only important. It’s urgent. COVID-19 is highly contagious, and millions of Americans have at least one underlying health condition that puts them at risk of developing a serious form of the illness. It’s estimated, for example, that 34 million American have diabetes and that 37 million are living with a chronic lung disease.

About 92 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the American Heart Association.

“Persons with underlying health conditions who have symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, or shortness of breath, should immediately contact their health care provider,” the CDC researchers write. “These persons should take steps to protect themselves from COVID-19, through washing their hands; cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces; and social distancing, including staying at home, avoiding crowds, gatherings, and travel, and avoiding contact with persons who are ill.”

“Maintaining at least a 30-day supply of medication, a 2-week supply of food and other necessities, and knowledge of COVID-19 symptoms are recommended for those with an underlying health condition,” they add.

And if you don’t have an underlying health condition? You need to follow those precautions, too.

Stay home. Stay safe. Save lives.

FMI:  You can read the CDC report in full on the agency’s website.