What are the underlying health conditions that put you at greater risk of severe illness with coronavirus?

Cases of coronavirus worldwide have now topped 380,000
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  • Much of the talk about coronavirus and its risks have centred around the implications for those with pre-existing health conditions.

    And it’s true that the risk can be higher for people with underlying medical conditions.

    But what exactly are the conditions that put you at greater risk – and why does having these conditions leave you more vulnerable during the COVID-19 outbreak?

    What are underlying health conditions?

    ‘Underlying health conditions’ has become a bit of a buzzword in the discussion about coronavirus. But put simply, it means the health conditions people already have, that are long-term and affect their health adversely.

    And now, a helpful list has been published on the government website sharing who is most at risk.

    Not all of the groups of people listed have underlying health conditions, but most do.

    You are thought to be at particularly high risk if you have:

    • chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
    • chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
    • chronic kidney disease
    • chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
    • chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
    • diabetes
    • problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
    • a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
    • are seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
    • are pregnant (and/or are pregnant with a heart condition)

    Of course, being pregnant is not a health condition, but it’s thought that women carrying a child at the moment could be more vulnerable during the pandemic.

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    Older people (over the age of 70) are considered to be at higher risk too.

    There are further groups of people who are at even higher risk when it comes to coronavirus too.

    According to the government, these include:

    • people who have received an organ transplant and remain on ongoing immunosuppression medication
    • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy
    • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia who are at any stage of treatment
    • people with severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma (requiring hospital admissions or courses of steroid tablets)
    • people with severe diseases of body systems, such as severe kidney disease (dialysis)

    It’s thought that in the coming days, the government will advise these groups of people to take even further measures to protect their health, which may include self-isolating at home for 12 weeks.

    Why are people with these conditions at higher risk when it comes to the coronavirus?

    It has been made clear that the above groups of people are not at higher risk than anybody else of getting the virus. It’s not that they’re more likely to get it.

    What it means is that you may be at higher risk of more severe illness if you were to get the coronavirus – if you have any of the above conditions.

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    Most people are able to recover from the coronavirus after a few days rest, and self-isolation of course.

    But for those with the aforementioned underlying health conditions, the virus can prove much more difficult to fight. In some cases, as we have seen, it can prove to be life-threatening.

    This is the reason why it’s so important that everyone remain vigilant with their hygiene practises, obeying the UK lockdown, and maintaining social distancing if outside.

    Current advice includes washing your hands more often, and for 20 seconds each time, with soap and preferably warm water. You should also avoid touching your face, avoid seeing people with symptoms of the coronavirus, stay a two-metre distance away from people when outside, regularly disinfecting your spaces, use hand sanitizer where you can’t wash your hands, and covering your mouth with a tissue if you cough or sneeze, and disposing of it immediately.

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    Why are pregnant people considered to be at higher risk?

    Currently there is no evidence that pregnant women are any more likely to get coronavirus or suffer from more severe symptoms if they do. Equally, there is not yet any evidence of any higher risk to newborn babies.

    However, current government advice states that they ought to be more vigilant given the global health crisis, and how much of the virus is still unknown.