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Am I at Risk of Severe Illness with COVID-19?

Though anyone can be affected by the coronavirus and the disease it causes (COVID-19), there are certain factors that make people particularly vulnerable to it, putting them in a “high risk” category. If you have existing health complications, are over the age of 65 or are immunocompromised in some way, you’re considered part of the “high risk” population for the coronavirus. It’s important to understand your own health and how it would be affected by the virus so you can take the proper precautions and stay safe.

What exactly does the coronavirus do?

The coronavirus causes issues with the respiratory system, so having trouble breathing is one of the most identifying symptoms of COVID-19. The virus cells infiltrate the lungs and damage the small sacs responsible for removing the carbon dioxide from your blood and replenishing them with fresh oxygen. The sacs then start filling with liquid, which reduces their capacity and makes it harder to breathe.

In the most severe cases, the sacs can rupture and send the poisonous fluid into the rest of the body, which can cause septic shock and, ultimately, death. For a more detailed look at how coronavirus affects the body, a helpful visual guide is available here.

What does “high risk” for coronavirus actually mean?

If you are considered part of the “high risk” population, your body is less equipped to fight the coronavirus when it enters your system, so your symptoms are likely to escalate more quickly. There are several factors that can increase your risk, including:

  • Age 65 and older
  • Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Weakened immune system (causes for this include cancer treatment, poorly controlled HIV/AIDS, smoking, immune deficiencies, prolonged use of corticosteroids)
  • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Chronic kidney disease/undergoing dialysis
  • Severe obesity

How to determine your COVID-19 risk factors

Many of you are already aware of your own personal risk factors and those of your family and close friends. If you’re unsure if you have any of these risk factors, getting familiar with your health is more important now than ever. There are several ways for you to become familiar with your own personal risk factors.

  • Health screenings are a simple way to equip yourself with accurate information about your health, including your risk of heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. Life Line Screening has local screening opportunities available for you to gain these invaluable insights. You can learn more about availability and schedule a screening here.
  • Home health tests are another great way for you to get the vital health information you need, while staying home and practicing social distancing. You can learn more about home health tests here.
  • Telehealth is a medical consultation through any kind of remote communication. While lab tests cannot be facilitated through telehealth, a doctor or nurse practitioner is available to help assess any questions you have. Best of all, it can be done from the privacy of your own home. You can learn more about telehealth here.

Symptoms of COVID-19

It’s important to know the symptoms of COVID-19 so you can contact your healthcare provider immediately if you notice them. (Note that symptoms may not appear until up to 14 days after exposure to coronavirus.) Commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat

It’s also important to remember that this is not an all-inclusive list of symptoms. Less common symptoms have included gastrointestinal issues as well, like nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you are experiencing any of these emergency symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

This is also not an exhaustive list. Contact your medical provider if you are experiencing any symptoms that seem severe or concerning to you.

How do I stay safe?

There is currently no vaccine or cure for COVID-19, so the most important thing you can do is practice social distancing. This means staying home as much as possible, only going out when absolutely necessary. Using services like grocery delivery, takeout and curbside pickup are great ways to maintain a safe distance from others while still getting the items you need during this time.

If you do have to enter a public place, it’s important to follow CDC guidelines like staying six feet away from others at all times, wearing a mask to cover your nose and mouth and washing your hands for a full 20 seconds (or using hand sanitizer) before and after.

Regularly sanitizing frequently touched surfaces in your home (doorknobs, light switches, faucets, refrigerator handles, etc.) is also a great way to keep germs at bay.

Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy

While the world remains in a state of uncertainty and we are tasked with self-isolation, most of us are experiencing some kind of anxiety, sadness or fear. It’s important to take care of yourself not just physically by practicing social distancing, but also mentally.

Mental health is always important, but it’s especially critical during this time of high-stress. As much as possible, stay in touch with friends and family via phone, video chat or even hand-written notes. Spend time doing things you enjoy and be sure to get some fresh air throughout the day. According to psychiatrist Curt Thompson, M.D., our minds are designed to seek variety and social connections at all times, so staying in one place without our friends and family can take a toll in more ways than one. Regular short walks in your neighborhood or sitting on your porch are great ways to keep your mind healthy during these unusual and isolating times.

The Bottom Line

By taking the proper precautions and staying informed about your health and risk factors, you’ll greatly reduce

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