Chronic illness major risk for COVID-19

People with non-communicable diseases are most at risk among sick people to contract and suffer from COVID-19, the largest study into the novel coronavirus out of China has revealed.

This week, China released its first comprehensive study into the virus, based on more than 44,000 cases as of February 11.

It reveals that 80 per cent of the cases have been mild and the death rate is 2.3 per cent. People most at risk have been largely already sick or elderly. Medical staff are also highly at risk, with 3,019 already infected and five dead.

This week, the Director of one of the central hospitals in the virus epicentre, Hubei in Wuhan Province, succumbed to the virus himself. He was 51.

In Hubei, the death rate is 2.9 per cent, compared with just 0.4 per cent outside of Wuhan Province.

Each of the 44,672 cases studied in the paper point towards a disease which is largely mild but for the elderly. According to the findings, just 4.7 per cent of cases have been critical and 13.8 per cent have been severe.

It also reveals men have been more likely to die than women, at a rate of 2.8 per cent compared to 1.7 per cent. 

But among people already sick, the paper reports that patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and hypertension are at risk of infection. 

Nearly 40 per cent of Samoan adults had hypertension in 2018, and majority are not getting the ongoing treatment they need to avoid developments into more chronic and serious diseases, a recently published report by the World Bank found. 

National Kidney Foundation clinical director Leituala Dr. Ben Matalavea advised people with such conditions to work hard to get healthier, including improving ones diet with fruit and vegetables, and doing regular exercise.

The paper, by the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, was published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology. 

China’s latest official figures say while 12,000 people have recovered, 1,868 have died and 72,436 have been infected. The data shows the infection rate slowing slightly.

On February 17, the World Health Organisation Director General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus said the trend “must be interpreted very cautiously,” and that as new populations are affected the data could change.

“It’s too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table.”

He also remarked that the data is showing that COVID-19 is less severe than previous global epidemics S.A.R.S. and M.E.R.S.

“We see relatively few cases among children. More research is needed to understand why,” Dr. Ghebreysus said.

The low number of cases in children has been described as a “blessing” by Dr. Nikki Turner, Chair of the International Committee to the W.H.O for measles and rubella.

With thousands of children across Samoa still recovering from the effects of measles, she said doctors are still watching the data closely to see its effects on children and infants.

People who have had measles are at higher risk of catching other diseases for several years after infection, as their immune system is severely compromised by the disease.

Dr. Turner said with Samoa’s relatively low-resourced health sector, everyone in the community needs to take good public health measures that apply to any respiratory illnesses, like social distancing, good hand hygiene and staying at home when unwell.

She also supports the 14-day quarantine measures Samoa has in place for not only people suspected to be infected but also anyone travelling from countries exposed to the virus at high rates.

“It is likely that eventually you will get a case in Samoa as it is likely to spread,” Dr. Turner said.

“However, on the other side the numbers are starting to decrease in China so it is hard to know exactly what is going to happen next, except we will continue to see some international spread, but public health measures do seem to be slowing the rate of spread.”

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