Coronavirus: who is most at risk? Statistics on age, sex, pregnancy and health conditions
Older populations are more at risk, but most cases will be mild, says World Health Organization
The number of UK deaths from coronavirus has reached 55, with 1,543 cases recorded across the country.
The government’s initial change in strategy last week from containing the virus to delaying its spread means that many more cases might have gone unreported.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson dramatically stepped up the government response last night, advising all Britons to avoid gatherings and non-essential travel - and said that in the coming days the most vulnerable would be told to avoid social contact for 12 weeks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that illness due to Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, is “generally mild”. So who is most at risk of more severe illness? Here are the statistics.
According to WHO, about one in every five people who catch coronavirus will need hospital care.
Data experts at the University of Oxford note that the mortality risk – the number of people who are infected with the disease that die from it – is difficult to pin down because the exact number of total cases is not known and because the outbreak is ongoing.
However, they have examined statistics published in February by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in China, where the outbreak began. These show that older populations are most at risk. Of patients aged 80 years and above, 14.8% died. The proportion gradually decreases by age: 8% for people aged 70-79, 3.6% for 60-69, 1.3% for 50-59, 0.4% for 40-49, 0.2% for 10-49 and 0% for under-10s.
China’s CDC figures found that the fatality rate was 1.7% for women and 2.8% for men. More men were also generally affected by the virus.
However, a report from the University of California published in The Lancet said: “This sex predisposition might be associated with the much higher smoking rate in men than in women in China (288 million men vs 12.6 million women were smokers in 2018).”
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Pre-existing medical conditions
WHO says people with “pre-existing medical conditions appear to develop serious illness more often than others”.
The UK government has said anyone instructed to get the annual flu jab as an adult on medical grounds should be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures. It has published this list of specific conditions:
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
Some people are at even higher risk, said the government. For example, people who have received an organ transplant and are on ongoing immunosuppression medication, cancer patients undergoing active chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and those with severe chest conditions.
Pregnant women in the UK have also been advised to pay close attention to social-distancing measures and are likely to be asked to minimise all social contact for up to 12 weeks from this weekend.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said: “Pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they develop coronavirus than the general population.”
Most pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate symptoms and there have been no reported deaths of pregnant women, although they are more vulnerable to getting infections than non-pregnant women, it says.
“There is also no evidence that the virus can pass to your developing baby while you are pregnant,” adds the college.
However, Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has said the UK is still “very early in what we know about this”, adding: “Infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general and that is why we have taken the very precautionary measure while we try and find out more.”