The novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 seems to hit some people harder than others, with some people experiencing only mild symptoms being hospitalized and requiring ventilation. Though scientists initially thought age was the dominant factor, with children avoiding the worst outcomes, new research has revealed a set of features impacting disease severity. Underlying health conditions are thought to be an important factor in influencing disease severity. Rates of hospitalizations were sixfold higher and rates of death were 12 times higher among COVID-19 patients with underlying conditions, compared with patients without underlying conditions. The most commonly reported underlying conditions were heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease. In this article, we will discuss 7 reasons why you might be susceptible to COVID-19. This doesn’t mean that the presence of these risk factors automatically implies that you have the disease.
7 Reasons You Might Be Susceptible To COVID-19
The risk of dying from the infection, and the likelihood of requiring hospitalization or intensive medical care, increases significantly with age. For instance, adults aged 65-84 make up an estimated 4-11% of COVID-19 deaths in the US, while adults ages 85 and above make up 10-27% (WHO report). The trend may be due, in part, to the fact that many elderly people have chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, that can exacerbate the symptoms of COVID-19.
Diabetes mellitus, a group of diseases that result in harmful high blood sugar levels, also seems to be linked to the risk of more severe COVID-19 infections. The most common form is type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the body’s cells don’t respond to the hormone insulin. As a result, the sugar that would otherwise move from the bloodstream into cells to be used as energy just builds up in the bloodstream. (When the pancreas makes little to no insulin in the first place, the condition is called type 1 diabetes.) Flu and pneumonia are more common and more serious in older individuals with type 2 diabetes.
HEART DISEASE AND HYPERTENSION
People with conditions that affect the cardiovascular system, such as heart disease and hypertension, generally suffer worse complications from COVID-19 than those with no preexisting conditions. That said, historically healthy people also can suffer heart damage from the virus infection. A study of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, found that more than 1 in 5 patients developed heart damage — some sampled patients had existing heart conditions, and some did not (WHO report).
People who smoke cigarettes could also be susceptible to severe COVID-19 infections, meaning they face a heightened risk of developing pneumonia, suffering organ damage and requiring breathing support. At baseline, smokers may be vulnerable to catching viral infections because smoke exposure dampens the immune system over time, damages tissues of the respiratory tract, and triggers chronic inflammation. Smoking is also associated with a multitude of medical conditions, such as emphysema and atherosclerosis, which could exacerbate the symptoms of COVID-19.
Several early studies have suggested a link between obesity and more severe COVID-19 disease in people. One study, which analyzed a gaggle of COVID-19 patients who were younger than the age of 60 in NY City, found that those that were obese were twice as likely as non-obese individuals to be hospitalized and were 1.8 times as likely to be admitted into critical care.
Blood type seems to be a predictor of how susceptible a person is to contracting SARS-CoV-2, though scientists haven’t found a link between blood type per se and severity of the disease.
Many medical conditions can worsen the symptoms of COVID-19, but why do historically healthy people sometimes fall dangerously ill or die from the virus? Scientists suspect that certain genetic factors may leave some people especially vulnerable to the disease, and lots of research groups aim to pinpoint exactly where those vulnerabilities dwell on our ordering. The genes that instruct cells to build ACE2 receptors may differ between people who contract severe infections and those who hardly develop any symptoms at all. Alternatively, differences may lie in genes that help rally the immune system against invasive pathogens. Specific combinations of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes, which train immune cells to recognize germs, may be protective against SARS-CoV-2, while other combinations leave the body open to attack. HLAs represent only one cog in our system machinery, though, so their relative influence over COVID-19 infection remains unclear.
Therefore, to conclude, if you ensure you don’t have these risk factors, then you can save yourself to an extent. Good luck!