En español | The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has once again updated its information on who is most at risk for severe illness from a coronavirus infection.
Older adults and people with underlying health conditions remain the primary high-risk populations. However, in a June 25 revision, the CDC removed its specific age threshold (65 and older) for risk, and now cautions that “among adults, risk increases steadily as you age, and it's not just those over the age of 65 who are at increased risk for severe illness.”
"To put it another way: There's not an exact cutoff of age at which people should or should not be concerned,” Jay C. Butler, CDC deputy director of infectious diseases and COVID-19 response incident manager, said in a said in a June 25 media briefing.
Part of the reason risk increases with age is because people are more likely to acquire health issues later in life, Butler explained. And underlying health conditions are a huge driver of complications that arise from COVID-19. A June report from the CDC found that hospitalizations for people with COVID-19 were six times higher for patients with chronic health conditions, compared to otherwise healthy individuals; deaths among this population were 12 times higher.
Underlying health conditions and COVID-19
The CDC has zeroed in on 10 health conditions that increase an individual’s risk for severe illness from a coronavirus infection. The list includes cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), obesity (BMI of 30 or higher), severe obesity (BMI of 40 or higher), sickle cell disease, smoking, a weakened immune system from a solid organ transplantation, type 2 diabetes, and serious heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease and cardiomyopathy. People of any age with these conditions may require hospitalization, intensive care or help breathing to overcome COVID-19.
Meanwhile, being overweight (BMI between 25 and 30), pregnant or having asthma, cerebrovascular disease, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure, neurologic conditions (including dementia), liver disease, pregnancy, pulmonary fibrosis, smoking, thalassemia (a type of blood disorder) and type 1 diabetes might increase a person’s risk for severe illness from COVID-19. A weakened immune system from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, or use of corticosteroids or other immune weakening medicines may also impact how sick a person gets.
CDC Director Robert Redfield on June 25 emphasized “that as your numbers of underlying medical conditions increase, your risk of severe illness from COVID also increases.” An estimated 60 percent of American adults have at least one chronic medical condition, the CDC notes; about 40 percent have two or more. More than 42 percent of U.S. adults have obesity, and when you factor in adults with overweight, including obesity, that number inches closer to 72 percent, federal data show.
Knowing if you are at increased risk for severe illness can help people make more informed decisions about “which activities to resume and what level of risk you will accept,” especially as more communities begin to loosen restrictions, the CDC says.
"While we are all at risk for COVID-19, we need to be aware of who is susceptible to severe complications so that we take appropriate measures to protect their health and well-being,” Redfield added.
This article, originally published on June 25, 2020, was updated with new information on Oct. 12, 2020.