Are You at Risk of Death from COVID-19?

George J. Ziogas

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The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. By definition, a global pandemic is an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, that crosses international boundaries and usually affects a large number of people. The definition of a global pandemic does not include what the risk is of developing the disease or what the risk of death from the disease is.

Risk is defined as a situation that involves exposure to danger. There is a possibility that if you are exposed to COVID-19, you will develop the disease. There is also a risk of dying if you have COVID-19. Scientists are still determining what all the risk factors are for death from COVID-19, but they have made progress in identifying many of the risk factors.

The Risk of Developing COVID-19

COVID-19 is spread through droplets that have the virus in them. When someone is infected with COVID-19 and coughs, sneezes, or talks, they send droplets of saliva or mucus into the air. If you come into contact or are exposed to enough of those droplets, you may be infected.

Researchers are studying how much virus you need to be exposed to, known as the viral load, before it overwhelms your immune system and you become infected. According to research by the John Hopkins School of Medicine, scientists have not determined an exact number for the COVID-19 viral load. However, based on data from the spread of COVID-19, they believe it has a very low viral load, and you don’t need to have a great deal of exposure to get infected.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing a mask and limiting the time and number of people you are within six feet of, to help reduce the risk of reaching viral overload exposure.

The more you lessen your risk of getting COVID-19, the lower your overall risk of dying from it is.

Age

Researchers have determined that age is the most significant risk factor for death from COVID-19. The older a person is, the more likely they can die from COVID-19. For comparison, scientists at the CDC use children ages 5-17 as the control group. The risk for other age groups is listed in multiples above the control group data.

• Age 0-4 2x

• Age 18-29 10x

• Age 30-39 45x

• Age 40-49 130x

• Age 50-64 440x

• Age 65-74 1300x

• Age 75-84 3200x

• Age 85 and older 8700x

For example, a grandparent who is age 68 has a 1300 times greater risk of death from COVID-19 than their 7-year-old grandchild.

Health Risks

Researchers continue to gather and analyze data related directly to COIVD-19 infections and deaths. Based on data collected since the beginning of the pandemic, researchers have identified certain health conditions common in people who have died from COVID-19. According to studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, common pre-existing conditions associated with COIVD-19 include:

· Cardiovascular Disease

· Hypertension

· Diabetes

· Pulmonary Disease

A risk model developed by the Yale School of Medicine found that the more pre-existing conditions a person had, the greater their risk was of death from COIVD-19.

The CDC associates the risk of death from COVID-19 with the risk of severe illness. People who get severely ill from COVID-19 are more likely to die from it. The CDC’s list of pre-existing health conditions that may raise severe illness risk includes over 25 conditions.

Examples include:

· Cancer

· Obesity

· Smoking

· Sickle Cell Disease

· Pregnancy

Social Determinants of Health

Other factors not related to age or health conditions have also shown to increase the risk of death from COVID-19 statistically. These factors are known as social determinants of health. Scientists believe these factors do not directly cause death from COVID-19. Instead, they may contribute to a greater spread of the disease within vulnerable groups of the population.

Social determinants of health that are related to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 include:

· Race

· Ability to Work from Home

· Economic Status

· Education Status

· Access to Medical Care

· Distrust of the Healthcare System

Social determinants of health also contribute to a greater risk for illness and death from other diseases and medical conditions.

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