Coronavirus has inflicted great suffering on British society over the last five months, evidenced by the 41,279 people that are confirmed to have died due to COVID19-related complications. Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled last night that the virus is now retreating, announcing a set of measures to resuscitate the economy in time for the summer. While returning to some semblance of normality may be music to many ears, those living with underlying conditions may not share in this optimism.
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It has become unpleasantly clear as the virus has raged through the UK and other parts of the world that people with specific underlying conditions are disproportionately at risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19.
The risk the virus presents to certain groups will mean that, short of a vaccine or an eradication, the fear of catching COVID-19 will persist.
As we begin to understand more about the threat posed to people with certain underlying conditions, governments can take a more targeted response to ensure the safety of their citizens.
Now doctors in South Korea have added to the growing literature on this pressing subject.
In a paper published by the Journal of Korean Medical Science on June 2, South Korean doctors wrote that diabetes, high body temperature, low oxygen saturation and pre-existing cardiac injury were shown to be the prognostic factors for severe COVID-19.
The team of doctors observed 110 coronavirus patients at a hospital in Daegu, the epicentre of South Korea’s outbreak, from February 19 to April 15.
Of the 110 patients in the Yeungnam University Medical Center, 23 developed a severe case of COVID-19.
Because such patients were significantly older than others, they were more likely to have diabetes and lower peripheral oxygen saturation, the paper said.
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The coronavirus patients with at least three of the four prognostic factors developed severe conditions, Ahn June-hong, professor of internal medicine at Yeungnam University Medical Center, said.
Speaking to Reuters, Professor June-hong said: “I believe using prognostic factors of severe COVID-19 patients will provide an opportunity for physicians to offer those risk-high patients with the best medical care from the early stage of the disease.”
Am I at a higher risk?
The NHS says there are two levels of higher risk:
- High risk (clinically extremely vulnerable)
- Moderate risk (clinically vulnerable)
People at high risk include:
- Have had an organ transplant
- Are having chemotherapy or antibody treatment for cancer, including immunotherapy
- Are having an intense course of radiotherapy (radical radiotherapy) for lung cancer
- Are having targeted cancer treatments that can affect the immune system (such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors)
- Have blood or bone marrow cancer (such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma)
- Have had a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in the past 6 months, or are still Taking immunosuppressant medicine
- Have been told by a doctor they have a severe lung condition (such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma or severe COPD)
- Have a condition that means they have a very high risk of getting infections (such as SCID or sickle cell)
- Are taking medicine that makes them much more likely to get infections (such as high doses of steroids or immunosuppressant medicine)
- Have a serious heart condition and are pregnant
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If you’re at high risk from coronavirus, you should have received a letter from the NHS.
“Speak to your GP or hospital care team if you have not been contacted and think you should have been,” notes the health site.
People at moderate risk from coronavirus include people who:
- Are 70 or older
- Have a lung condition that’s not severe (such as asthma, COPD, emphysema or bronchitis)
- Have heart disease (such as heart failure)
- Have diabetes
- Have chronic kidney disease
- Have liver disease (such as hepatitis)
- Have a condition affecting the brain or nerves (such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy)
- Have a condition that means they have a high risk of getting infections
- Are taking medicine that can affect the immune system (such as low doses of steroids)
- Are very obese (a BMI of 40 or above)
- Are pregnant – see advice about pregnancy and coronavirus
If you’re at moderate risk from coronavirus, you can go out to work (if you cannot work from home) and for things like getting food or exercising, notes the NHS.
“But you should try to stay at home as much as possible,” the health body advises.
It adds: “It’s very important you follow the general advice on social distancing, including staying at least two metres (three steps) away from anyone you do not live with.”
A report by Public Health England found that other things might also mean you are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus.
- Your age – your risk increases as you get older
- Being a man
- Where in the country you live – the risk is higher in poorer areas
- Being from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background
- Being born outside of the UK or Ireland
- Living in a care home
- Having certain jobs, such as nurse, taxi driver and security guard.
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