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1 in 5 People Could Contract Severe Coronavirus Because of This

A significant portion of the world population is at risk for severe COVID-19, says study.

When the first coronavirus cases were identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019, it was unfathomable that in less than six months, almost 8 million people around the world would be infected with the virus—and over 434,000 lives lost as a result of it. Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that the risk of severe infection and death was not distributed equally.

Gender, race, age, and underlying health conditions all fit into the equation that determines who is more likely to live or die from coronavirus. However, those most likely to develop a severe infection are those with preexisting health conditions—and the number of us who fall into that category is a bit startling.

22% of the Population

According to a modeling study published this week in The Lancet Global Health, about 1.7 billion people around the world—22 percent of the global population—suffer from underlying conditions that increase risk for severe coronavirus. Keep in mind that this number does not even include older individuals without underlying health conditions or take into account other risk factors—including poverty and obesity—known to influence risk. 

"About one in five individuals worldwide could be at increased risk of severe COVID-19, should they become infected, due to underlying health conditions, but this risk varies considerably by age," the study says. 

Researchers do point out the risk varies by age, ranging from less than 5% of those younger than 20 years to more than 66% of those aged 70 years or older. "However, for many of these individuals, their condition might not be diagnosed or known to the health system, or their increased risk could be quite modest," they point out. While one-fifth are at risk of serious illness, researchers estimated that just about 4 percent of the world's population—approximately  349 million people—would require hospitalization if they became infected. 

11 Risk Factor Categories

The risk factors were broken down into 11 categories: cardiovascular disease (including cardiovascular disease caused by hypertension), chronic kidney disease (including chronic kidney disease caused by hypertension), chronic respiratory disease, chronic liver disease, diabetes, cancers with direct immunosuppression, cancers without direct immunosuppression, but with possible immunosuppression caused by treatment, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (excluding latent infections), chronic neurological disorders, sickle cell disorders.

Researchers hope their findings will help focus prevention efforts to those who fall into high-risk categories. "Identifying at-risk populations is important not only for making projections of the probable health burden in countries, but also for the design of effective strategies that aim to reduce the risk of transmission to people in target groups," they explain. As for yourself: To get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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