Who is most at risk of dying from coronavirus?

TORONTO — Cases of the novel coronavirus continue to spread in Canada and around the world, but the virus does not affect all patients equally: your age and health history play a big role in how the virus may affect you.


The biggest underlying question surrounding COVID-19 is its death rate. Experts note that the rising number of cases, regional outbreaks and undetected or unreported cases make it hard to determine.

“We don’t have the full measure of how deadly it is,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Neil Rau told CTVNews.ca.

Preliminary estimates suggest that the death rate associated with COVID-19 is between one and two per cent, which is higher than the average death rate associated with seasonal flu strains, at around 0.1 per cent.

Researchers at Imperial College London note that an exact death rate is hard to calculate because the number of confirmed cases reported only represents a fraction of the true levels of infection.

“Deaths tend to be reported promptly but there is less information on how many people have recovered from the virus,” Imperial College researcher Dr. Lucy Okell said in a press release.

“We are likely to be missing cases who have milder symptoms but there is limited information on how common these are.”

The report notes that all “case fatality ratios” should be viewed with caution due to the number of asymptomatic or mild cases that go unreported.

“When you hear about a higher death rate, people get scared,” Rau noted.

“But on the other hand when the virus is ‘let to rip’ and you don’t see huge numbers of causalities, you start asking yourself maybe this is not as deadly as we all think. Maybe there’s a whole ocean of other mild cases that we aren’t picking up.”


“The biggest driver is age,” said Rau, noting that if you are young and otherwise healthy “you’re not likely to get sickened to the point of dying.”

Those with underlying health conditions such as obesity, heart disease and lung disease are at a heightened risk of developing complications related to the virus.

“Once the lungs are very affected by a virus like this — and this happens with the flu as well — the lungs are filled with water and the air exchange of oxygen into the blood is impaired,” Rau said.

Though there have been some questions surrounding an increased risk for smokers, Rau reiterated that a smoker would likely have to have a history of lung disease to be at an increased risk.

A recent study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the virus most seriously affected older people with preexisting health issues.

The study, which analyzed more than 44,000 cases from China, showed that more than 80 per cent of Wuhan-related cases were classified as mild.

However, in the cases studied, the death rate was ten times higher in the elderly compared to the middle-aged. The death rate was lowest in patients under 30-years-old, with eight deaths out of 4,500 patients.

The study also noted that patients with cardiovascular disease were at the highest risk of death, followed by diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and hypertension.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also notes that the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions appear to develop more serious illness.

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