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Factors for Increased Risk of Severe Symptoms From COVID-19

There are many factors that influence the severity of COVID-19 in those affected by the disease. Everybody should be taking precautions, but it is especially important that people with certain risk factors do everything possible to protect themselves from the disease.

VNA’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mary Fox, shares details about the types of people who are most at risk for developing serious illness and even dying from COVID-19 and simple ways they can take extra precautions.


Illness severity increases with age, with those over 85 at the highest risk of severe complications and death. Overall, eight out of ten deaths in the United States due to COVID-19 are of individuals over the age of 65.

The age factor is part of the reason we aren’t seeing as many deaths from COVID-19 as we were in the spring when the bulk of the virus first hit the United States. People under 35 are the group most affected by the virus right now. This younger population tend to have much milder symptoms and some who carry the virus do not have any symptoms at all. Most people in this age group recover without serious complications or long-term problems.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Certain underlying medical conditions have been proven to increase the severity of COVID-19. These include:

  • Cancer

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Immunocompromised states from solid organ transplants

  • Obesity

  • Serious heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies

  • Sickle cell disease

  • Type two diabetes mellitus

Of those conditions listed above, the most common are heart disease, type two diabetes and obesity. And the more underlying health conditions you have, the greater your risk of severe illness.

While those conditions have been proven to affect severity, there are several underlying medical conditions that may increase severity, and individuals with these conditions should still take extra precautions. These include:

  • Moderate-to-severe asthma

  • Cerebrovascular disease

  • Cystic fibrosis

  • Hypertension or high blood pressure

  • Immunocompromised state from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune-weakening medicines

  • Neurological conditions such as dementia

  • Liver disease

  • Pregnancy

  • Pulmonary fibrosis

  • Smoking

  • Thalassemia

  • Type one diabetes mellitus

Why Are Experts Predicting A Second Surge?

Because the younger people who currently have a high rate of COVID-19 infection are often not following recommendations for curbing the virus. Many are not being tested at all and they will likely spread the virus to parents, grandparents or other older adults with whom they come into contact. And it’s the older adults who are at greater risk.

What People Can Do Stop COVID-19

1. Prevention, as always, is the best medicine. And the necessary precautions are really very simple and have been widely promoted to the public throughout this pandemic: social distancing, wearing masks, washing/cleansing hands often, limiting contact with commonly touched surfaces and avoiding large events and gatherings. According to the CDC, “the more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer that interaction, the higher your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.”

2. Chronic medical conditions should be diagnosed and controlled as well as possible through proper healthcare supervision and medication, a healthy diet and COVID-safe exercise.

3. Get a flu shot! This year it’s even more critical to get vaccinated against influenza because flu and COVID virus symptoms will be difficult to distinguish from one another. The immune system could become overloaded if a person were to come down with both viruses around the same time. The risk of serious illness and death is likely to soar. While a flu shot never gives 100% protection from the flu, all of us will need as much as we can get. Please call the VNA office for more information about the flu and available immunizations.


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