Here’s some more news coming out of Wuhan that you may not have heard about: They’ve identified common characteristics among the patients who didn’t survive hospitalization for COVID-19.
And as you might expect, this coronavirus is hitting a very specific category of people the hardest…
Who’s dying from COVID-19?
According to the latest data, the Wuhan patients who died were more likely to have other diseases. They were also more likely to have an elevated D-dimer—that’s a blood test used to identify harmful clots.
The threat increased with age, too—survivors averaged 52 years old, while those who died averaged 69 years old.
Unsurprisingly, the patients who showed signs of sepsis (a systemic blood infection, which is deadly all by itself), had high blood pressure or diabetes, or required mechanical ventilation in the hospital were the most likely to die. And analysis shows that nearly half of the Chinese coronavirus patients had some kind of comorbidity—be it hypertension, diabetes, or heart disease.
Now, about 60 percent of U.S. adults have at least one underlying health condition in general. So, this isn’t exactly comforting news. But knowing your individual risk is key… so let’s continue.
As I explained earlier in the week, mortality rates are likely to be significantly lower than earlier reports suggested. But certain facts remain: The virus’ death toll is much higher among the very old—as high as 15 percent in patients over 80. (And, in contrast, as low as 0.2 percent in patients aged 10 to 39.)
Ultimately, this is probably due to differences in respiratory health, as older patients over 60 are much more likely to succumb to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) than their younger counterparts.
And having cancer and/or COPD nearly triples the risk of severe complications… while diabetes and hypertension raise that risk by roughly 60 percent.
Who’s catching COVID-19?
These mortality risk factors may be pretty typical for any viral illness—but some of the other trends of this particular outbreak aren’t.
For example, nearly 90 percent of the Chinese cases were in people between the ages of 30 and 79. There appears to be a low incidence among people younger than 18—children accounted for only 2.4 percent of total reported cases, and none of the cases in Wuhan.
But this is unusual, considering that young people are among the most likely to encounter the disease—through school, work, and public transit. Yet, they don’t seem to be contracting it, much less dying from it.
There are likely biological reasons behind this apparent protection. (Fatalities have also been higher in men, rather than women, for reasons that remain unknown.) But in the end, you don’t want to take chances, regardless of your age or gender.
So again… be alert for symptoms—namely, persistent fever, cough, and shortness of breath. And if you suspect potential exposure, self-quarantine is critical.
Viral shedding of COVID-19—that is, the period during which you’re contagious—has lasted as long as 37 days. And anti-viral medications have not had any impact. But we also know that people can shed the virus during incubation, when they may not be showing any symptoms at all.
All this adds up to some serious challenges where containment is concerned. But that’s still no cause for panic. Because in the end, what we’re dealing with in coronavirus is really no different than any other virulent illnesses.
In fact—and I repeat—at this moment in time, COVID-19 is far less dangerous than the flu, by the numbers. After all, thus far this season, there have been:
- 34 million cases of the flu
- 350,000 flu hospitalizations
- 20,000 flu deaths (in some seasons this has run as low as 3,000 and as high as 80,000)
By contrast, we’ve seen 100,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide—most of which have ended with a full recovery.
Could the outlook change? Well, anything is possible at this point. But right now, at least, the best course action is to remain calm. And for the millionth time, wash your hands.
“Risk Factors for Death From COVID-19 Identified in Wuhan Patients.” Medscape Medical News, 03/09/2020. (medscape.com/viewarticle/926504)
“Who is getting sick, and how sick? A breakdown of coronavirus risk by demographic factors.” STAT, 03/03/2020. (statnews.com/2020/03/03/who-is-getting-sick-and-how-sick-a-breakdown-of-coronavirus-risk-by-demographic-factors/)