While coronavirus symptoms can be mild in most people, some sections of the population are especially vulnerable to it--the elderly and people with certain pre-existing conditions. According to a new study, one in five people globally has a health condition that heightens the risk of severe complications of COVID-19. What's even more concerning is that the paper notes that around 30% of the working-age population in India between 15 and 64 years of age have at least one condition that makes them vulnerable to such complications.
So how do we protect such high-risk individuals? Because a vaccine is still months away from hitting the market, one option would be to shield them by more intensive physical distancing measures than the rest. “This may be especially important at times and places where health systems risk being overwhelmed by cases,” quoted the study, conducted by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and published at Medrxiv, a health research website.
The findings of the study revealed that an estimated 1.7 billion people (22% of the global population) have at least one and 0.4 million have at least two underlying conditions that could increase their risk of severe COVID-19 infections. In fact, the prevalence of one or more condition was 10% by age 25 years, 33% by 50 years, and 66% by 70 years. This indicates that even a large share of younger persons are at risk of co-morbidities, despite what people believe.
The most prevalent health conditions that put people at risk were chronic kidney disease (CKD), cardiovascular disease (CVD), and chronic respiratory disease (CRD). These prevalence estimates were extracted by age, sex and country for CVD, CKD, CRD, chronic liver disease, diabetes, cancers, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, chronic neurological disorders, sickle cell disorders, among others.
According to Dr Giridhar R Babu, professor and head, Lifecourse Epidemiology, Public Health Foundation of India, the longer the people live, the higher the burden of non-communicable disease, which makes them vulnerable to viral infections. "In India, there is premature onset of non-communicable diseases, with one in three adults developing hypertension in most cases early and one in 10 have diabetes. So, we have a large number of people who could have severe COVID-19 disease, but what we have seen is 70% to 80% of those who are COVID-19 positive in India have very mild symptoms or are asymptomatic,” he said.
He said the findings of the study should help create a plan for the elderly and those with early-onset comorbidities for the post lockdown period when infections are expected to peak. “They have to be protected, by limiting their movement outdoors, the use of mask, physical distancing etc. They can also get specialised care in hospitals,” adds the study.
So let's do away with the notion that young people are invincible when it comes to fighting off coronavirus--we all need to be as careful as we can to avoid getting infected. Follow doctors' advice and practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently and self-isolate as soon as you notice any symptoms.