Americans living with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, including asthma, are being more severely affected by coronavirus, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.
At its worst, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus can lead to pneumonia, multi-organ failure and death. As of Saturday, the virus had hospitalized more than 400 people in Clark County and killed 41.
Nationally, the data showed underlying conditions were present in 78 percent of U.S. coronavirus patients admitted to intensive-care units since Feb. 12 and in about 94 percent of people who died.
In Clark County, only about 22 percent of the people who have been hospitalized here have underlying conditions, according to Southern Nevada Health District data published Friday.
However, the stark contrast to the federal data is because the health district is still working to confirm the medical history of many of the infected and needs more investigators for growing numbers of cases, SNHD medical investigator Dr. Vit Kraushaar said.
As part of the preliminary U.S. data, the CDC has now included pregnancy, current and former smokers, and people with neurologic disorders and neurodevelopmental or intellectual disabilities as underlying conditions and potential risk factors for ongoing data analysis.
The worst outcomes can happen to even the young and healthy, but Dr. Christopher Voscopoulos, ICU medical director for Southern Hills Hospital in Las Vegas, said people with underlying conditions are especially vulnerable.
“You need to mount an immune response in some way, shape or form to the coronavirus,” he said. “If you can’t mount that immune response then your body is more susceptible to the virus causing damage.”
At Southern Hills, conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure are taking a heavy toll on patients already fighting the coronavirus.
Voscopoulos estimated three-quarters of coronavirus patients receiving intensive care at his hospital have other underlying health conditions.
“It’s definitely the clear majority,” he said.
The CDC data published Tuesday focused on more than 7,000 cases from across the country where information was available on underlying conditions or other potential risk factors. The CDC noted its estimates were preliminary.
The Southern Nevada Health District’s latest data shows a much smaller percentage of people hospitalized with coronavirus in Clark County have underlying conditions.
About 61 percent of those who died after contracting coronavirus had underlying health conditions, according to the SNHD data published Friday.
The health district has about 50 people investigating patient health histories, and it is in the process of adding more investigators.
With about 100 new coronavirus cases being identified in the county per day now, Kraushaar said it will take time for the health district to get the medical history of even the most severely ill patients.
“We’re having to prioritize our investigations,” he said. “I suspect what we see in Southern Nevada will be very similar to what is seen across the country.”
For now, people with underlying conditions should take all recommended precautions to avoid contact with the coronavirus, including social distancing and frequent hand washing, Southern Hill’s Voscopoulos said.
The doctor said he hopes COVID-19 serves as a wake-up call for many to exercise more, eat better and do less smoking and drinking. Some chronic conditions, like high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, can be reversible by living a healthier lifestyle.
“We would really like, as medical professionals, for people to take better care of themselves,” he said. “That would be the silver lining, if we could have better public health.”