Who's sickest from COVID-19? These conditions tied to increased risk

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A person waits in line to get tested for the COVID-19 virus at Brooklyn Hospital Center on Tuesday.
A person waits in line to get tested for the COVID-19 virus at Brooklyn Hospital Center on on Tuesday.
Angela Weiss | AFP via Getty Images

A new analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds people with chronic conditions including diabetes, lung disease and heart disease appear to be at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The report finds 78 percent of COVID-19 patients in the U.S. requiring admission to the intensive care unit had at least one underlying condition. And 94 percent of hospitalized patients who died had an underlying condition. The analysis is a preliminary snapshot based on data from about 7,000 cases in the U.S. and about 200 deaths.

"These results are consistent with findings from China and Italy," the CDC researchers conclude in a report published in the MMWR Tuesday. These findings "highlight the importance of COVID-19 prevention in persons with underlying conditions," the paper concludes.

Among COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU, 32 percent had diabetes, 29 percent had heart disease and 21 percent had chronic lung disease which includes asthma, COPD and emphysema. In addition, 37 percent had other chronic conditions including hypertension or a history of cancer.

The report also includes a snapshot of cases among children and teenagers, and it adds to the evidence that people of all ages are vulnerable to infection.

The analysis concludes that about 23 percent of the COVID-19 cases were among children and teens (under age 19). But only a small number of these young patients were known to be hospitalized. The CDC documented 48 hospitalizations among this age group. Eight young patients were sick enough to be admitted to the ICU. (The report does not distinguish within the 0-19 age group).

Keep in mind, this snapshot is preliminary. "The analysis was limited by small numbers and missing data because of the burden placed on reporting health departments with rapidly rising case counts," the researchers write. And the picture could change as more data becomes available.

Overall, this report bolsters the evidence that people with chronic disease may be hit hardest by COVID-19 in terms of severity of symptoms and complications. But, it's important to note that about 60 percent of cases evaluated in this analysis were among people who did not have documented chronic conditions. So, healthy, younger people can be vulnerable, too.

As we've reported, a prior analysis, also based on preliminary data, found that nearly 40 percent of people hospitalized in the U.S. were 55 years old and younger. And 20 percent were people aged 20-44.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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