In Depth

Coronavirus: who are the ‘super-survivors’?

Centenarians part of a ‘special group’ who are more likely to survive coronavirus

People over the age of 100 are part of a “special group” whose biological make-up means that they are more likely to survive coronavirus, according to experts.

The Times reports that despite mortality data suggesting that people over the age of 70 are at greater risk of dying due to coronavirus, there is a “select group for whom this seems not to apply”.

This trend was demonstrated this week, when the NHS discharged 106-year-old Connie Titchen from a Birmingham hospital. Titchen is the oldest known person in Britain to have survived the disease.

But why are the over-100s surviving coronavirus – and what can we learn from them?

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Why are older people surviving?

Older people surviving coronavirus is not necessarily unusual, with recent figures suggesting that the virus has a fatality rate of around 14.8% among sufferers aged 80 and up. This means that more than 85% of sufferers recover.

The Times reports that stories of people in their 90s and centenarians surviving the disease that has killed scores of young and healthy individuals “continue to emerge from Italy, the US, China and the Netherlands”.

Experts currently believe the survival of this small group of very old adults is likely to be because of the heterogeneity, or diverse characteristics, within each age group.

“This may give them a physical or psychological advantage over the majority of those in their age cohort,” The Times notes.

Sarah Harper, a professor of gerontology at Oxford University, said: “If we look at people who live to a very old age and make it over 105 years there is some indication that they are genetically or biologically different from the rest of the population.

“They have very little cancer, very little cardiovascular disease, very little diabetes. We do know that there is a special group. They are obviously exceptional for their age group. That does not make [their survival] less special – it is wonderful to see that these older adults have come through this illness and are now well.”

Last month Professor Chris Whitty, the country’s chief medical officer, sought to reassure the public that the elderly have a good chance of surviving Covid-19 if infected.

Whitty said that “even in the most vulnerable, oldest groups, in a very stressed health service…the great majority of people who caught this virus survived it”, reported The Telegraph.

“I think it’s easy to get a perception that if you’re older and you get this virus, you’re a goner. Absolutely not – the great majority of people will recover from this virus, even if they are in their 80s,” he added.

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