Skip to content

The #1 Cause of "Severe" COVID Say Experts

Doctors explain why some people get COVID more severely than others. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

No matter what we do it seems like COVID is unavoidable and while many people will experience a mild case, for others it's a different story. COVID-19 affects everyone differently and you don't know how your body will respond until you get the virus, but there are certain factors that increase the risk of a serious COVID case. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who explain who is likely to experience a severe case and why. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Vaccination Status

Doctor vaccinating female patient in clinic.

Dr. Emil Tsai, M.D.– Ph.D., M.A.S., chief scientist and CEO of SyneuRx says, "It is well known that symptoms progress in severity depending on your age, underlying medical conditions and vaccination status. You are at risk for a more severe case of COVID if your vaccination was longer than six months ago, you are elderly, or you have an underlying medical condition such as obesity, cardiovascular disease including hypertension, diabetes, respiratory disease such as asthma, or COPD, kidney disease, etc."


Chronic Health Conditions

Young diabetic woman checking her blood sugar levels.

Erica Susky, an Infection Control Practitioner (ICP) in hospital epidemiology explains, "There are groups of people at greater risk, which overall includes those who have chronic medical conditions as these may compromise one's health, immune system and the ability to ward off a severe infection. Such conditions include cancer, dementia, neurological diseases, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, HIV, pregnancy, stroke; and chronic kidney, liver and lung diseases."  


People with Weakened Immune Systems

A female doctor is taking the blood pressure from a very worried African American female patient.

According to Susky, "Older individuals are at a greater risk of severe COVID-19 as the immune system weakens as people age. Those with conditions that make one immunocompromised are at risk for the same reason of a weakened immune system (HIV, tuberculosis, organ and stem cell transplant, and those on immunosuppressive medications)."


Social Factors

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

"Other social factors put one at risk for acquiring severe COVID-19, as they are marginalized groups with systemic social and health inequities," Susky says. This would include race/ethnicity, those in poverty or crowding, and those with mental health issues."

RELATED: I Have Omicron and This is What it Feels Like


Why COVID is Likely to Surge Again

sad young female doctor or nurse wearing face protective mask for protection

Dr. Mary Rodgers, principal scientist at Abbott states, "While COVID cases decline and restrictions are lifted in the U.S., our team of researchers continue to monitor variants including BA.2, the sub-variant of Omicron that countries in Europe and Asia are seeing rising cases. Similar to the pattern that has occurred over the last two years, infectious disease experts have pointed out how outbreaks in other countries have been followed by surges in the U.S." 

RELATED: COVID Symptoms Usually Appear Like This


How to Help Prevent COVID

Woman taking COVID test.

 Dr. Syeda Amna Husain, a doctor who has partnered with Abbott explains, "There is a slim chance of not contracting COVID if you haven't been infected yet in the last two years given the surges and the variants that have evolved. Remember, contracting SARS COV 2 doesn't mean you've failed or lost. It's ok and there shouldn't be shame in the diagnosis. However, remember the safest thing you can do for your health is get vaccinated and boosted, which we know decreases the risk of severe disease and hospitalization. You can continue to wear high-quality KN95 or KF94 masks in indoor settings, which do protect the wearer. You can also be diligent about hand washing and careful about who you are around depending on your overall risk assessment threshold. If you're in settings where you're unable to control who you'll be around, then consider wearing a mask as mentioned above and test in the following days with rapid tests like the BinaxNOW Self Test by Abbott. Frequent testing is very helpful in picking up infection." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather