Coronavirus is proving a destructive force on all fronts, with the number of reported UK cases rising to 319 as of yesterday, the Italian government placing 16 million people under quarantine and the global stock markets crashing. With widespread panic setting in, Prime Minister Boris Johnson went on ITV’s This Morning to reassure the public that the risk to the general population is relatively small. As the PM highlighted, however, the elderly are disproportionately at risk of developing complications as a result of catching the virus.
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Certain pre-existing medical conditions have also been associated with a heightened risk of developing complications from the pathogen.
According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), people with heart and circulatory conditions should be extra vigilant as the threat of coronavirus increases.
Elaborating on this association, Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, Associate Medical Director at the BHF, said: “There’s still a lot we are still learning about how this virus affects people with existing medical conditions.
“However, information to date suggests that people with heart and circulatory disease including cerebrovascular disease (problems with the blood supply to the brain, such as stroke) appear to be at higher risk of complications caused by the virus.”
Emphasising the threat posed to people living with cardiovascular conditions, the American College of Cardiology issued a bulletin at the end of last month which revealed that 40 percent of hospitalised COVID-19 patients had cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease (which refers to blood flow in the brain, such as stroke).
“That statistic doesn’t mean people with heart disease are more likely to contract the coronavirus,” said Orly Vardeny, associate professor of medicine at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and University of Minnesota.
“It just means that those folks are more likely to have complications once they do get it,” she added.
Is there a working explanation for the association?
Vardeny, an adviser on the ACC bulletin, said there are a number of factors that may underpin the risk.
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The virus’s main target is the lungs. But that could affect the heart, especially a diseased heart, which has to work harder to get oxygenated blood throughout the body, she said.
“In general, you can think of it as something that is taxing the system as a whole,” explained Orly.
That could exacerbate problems for someone with heart failure, where the heart is already having problems pumping efficiently.
Someone with an underlying heart issue also might have a less robust immune system. People’s immune systems weaken as they age, Vardeny said.
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And “in those with chronic medical conditions, the body’s immune response is not as strong a response when exposed to viruses,” she added.
Other underlying conditions that may increase your risk of complications
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), coronaviruses can cause more severe symptoms and complications in people with diabetes, as well as in older people, and those with long term conditions such as cancer or chronic lung disease.
How to protect yourself and others from catching the virus
While the scientific community and public health bodies pool their resources together to develop a vaccine, it is believed that maintaining good hygiene standards is the best way to reduce your risk of catching and spreading coronavirus.
The most important measure is to wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds, according to the NHS.
You should also:
Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
Put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
It is also imperative to not not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean, warns the health site.
What are the warning signs?
According to the NHS, the symptoms of coronavirus are:
- A cough
- A high temperature
- Shortness of breath
What steps should I take if I suspect I have it?
NHS 111 has an online coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do.
Use this service if:
- You think you might have coronavirus
- In the last 14 days you’ve been to a country or area with a high risk of coronavirus – see our coronavirus advice for travellers
- You’ve been in close contact with someone with coronavirus
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