What are the signs of extreme COVID-19 and who’s extra severely affected? – Q&A
Q: What is severe COVID-19?
A: Some people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Other people are more severely affected. People who are severely affected may have difficulty breathing, low oxygen levels in their blood and damage to their lungs. Some of these people need intensive care and probably less than 1% of all cases may die. The reason why some people are much more seriously affected than others is being urgently investigated by scientists and doctors.
Q: What symptoms do people with more severe COVID-19 have?
A: A study into symptoms of 5,700 people with COVID-19 shows that many of the symptoms are common to people with both mild and severe disease. These common symptoms include fever and cough. However, some symptoms are much more common in people with severe disease. These include:
- shortness of breath (36% of people with severe disease and 13% of people with non-severe disease)
- difficulty breathing (44% of people with severe disease and 6% of people with non-severe disease)
- muscle aches (26% of people with severe disease and 13% of people with non-severe disease)
- chills (26% of people with severe disease and 11% of people with non-severe disease)
- fatigue (60% of people with severe disease and 44% of people with non-severe disease)
- sputum production (38% of people with severe disease and 28% of people with non-severe disease)
The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Q: Why are these symptoms more common in people with severe COVID-19?
A: Shortness of breath may suggest the virus has caused more damage to the lungs, which may also cause inflammation and sputum production. We do not know why people who are more severely affected are more likely to have muscle aches, chills or fatigue.
Q: Are people with some underlying conditions more likely to have severe COVID-19?
A: Yes. People who are older and those with one or more underlying conditions are more likely to have severe COVID-19. The most common conditions are hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, chronic kidney disease and dementia.
Q: What about people from different ethnic backgrounds?
A: Studies have shown that people from black and Asian ethnic groups are more likely than white people to get COVID-19 and are more likely to die from it. However, we do not know why this is the case. It could be because the types of jobs done by people in these ethnic groups are riskier in terms of getting infected. It could also be because people from some ethnic groups are more likely to have underlying health conditions such as diabetes.
Q: What is the most important predictor of how severely someone will be affected by COVID-19?
A: Age is the most important predictor of whether someone will be severely affected by COVID-19. In one analysis of UK figures, people diagnosed with COVID-19 who were 80 or older were seventy times more likely to die of COVID-19 than those under 40.
Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser
- David Nunan et al. COVID-19 Symptoms Tracker. Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Oxford University. https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/covid-19-signs-and-symptoms-tracker/ (Accessed 18 June 2020).
- South Korean doctors find risk factors for severe COVID-19 cases. Reuters June 11 2020.
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-southkorea-study/south-korean-doctors-find-risk-factors-for-severe-covid-19-cases-idUSKBN23I07R (Accessed 18 June 2020).
- Public Health England. COVID-19: review of disparities in risks and outcomes. 2 June 2020. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-review-of-disparities-in-risks-and-outcomes (Accessed 18 June 2020).