Risks for Severe COVID-19 Illness

Published: February 23, 2021
Barbara Young
By Barbara Young, PharmD

In many areas of the country, COVID-19 cases continue to appear and outbreaks in local areas occur. Most people who develop COVID-19 will have a mild case and will not need to go to the hospital for treatment. However, some individuals will need to be hospitalized and may even require intensive care.

Who is at an increased risk for getting seriously ill with COVID-19?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published detailed information about who is at risk for coming down with a serious case of COVID-19. It’s not just older adults who are at increased risk for severe illness. People with the following medical conditions are at increased risk for getting seriously ill with COVID-19:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
  • Weakened immune system from an organ transplant
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or heart muscle disease
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes

Are there other medical conditions that may increase a person’s risk for a severe case of COVID-19?
People with the following conditions may also be at an increased risk for a serious case of COVID-19:

  • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis (an inherited disease that affects the lungs and digestive tract)
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV infection, use of corticosteroids or other immune weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Smoking
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes

What should I do if I have an increased risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19?
Individuals noted to be at a higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19 should take precautions to reduce their risk of being infected by the virus. Most importantly, they should get vaccinated as soon as possible with any of the available COVID-19 vaccines. They should also think carefully about the risk of infection from contact with others and limit those activities based on the associated risk. In addition, it is important to take basic precautions such as wearing a mask and practicing safe distancing, which means placing 6 feet between you and others, if you go out of the house. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you leave your home, wash your hands as soon as you come back inside. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol.

Be sure to also wash your hands after blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched. Examples of high-touch surfaces that need to be regularly cleaned and disinfected are light switches, doorknobs, keyboards, faucets, tables, and countertops. 

Note: The information contained in this article is emerging and rapidly evolving because of ongoing research. Talk to your pharmacist or other healthcare provider if you have any questions about your medications, COVID-19, or other health issues.

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