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How age and preexisting conditions factor into coronavirus

Testing for coronavirus continues to be slow in the U.S. (Getty Images)

One of the more frustrating things about coronavirus is the vastly different effects it has on the people who catch it. What do we know about the reason behind the fact that some people catch the virus and have no symptoms, and then get over it? And some people catch the virus and within a couple of days they’re in the hospital?

“The information that we’re learning about this virus is changing so rapidly that we need to keep that in mind as we move forward. The basic statistics are this: 50% of people are asymptomatic, 30% of people have mild to moderate symptoms, and 20% of people are critically ill from it,” said local MD Dr. Gordon Cohen.

“Usually, we don’t see that much of a difference. Usually, if you get the flu, you get symptoms that are pretty comparable with what everybody else gets.”

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The latest twist is that even though we were told from the beginning that this seems to be particularly dangerous to older people, now we’re finding out that’s not the case. It’s impacting younger people as well.

“It seems that rather than age, the bigger issue is coexisting disease. The thing is as you get older, you sort of accumulate more health issues, and that’s probably one of the reasons that older patients are not doing as well,” he said. “What we do know is that the big risk factors that seem to be panning thus far are: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease and age.”

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“As we age, these are the things that we get. So it’s a little difficult at this point to sort out specifically age from the other diseases themselves.”

Testing for antibodies

One of the efforts being pursued at the moment is finding a way of getting people back to work before a vaccine is found, centered on testing if people have developed antibodies, which is being looked at in Italy.

“They’ve been trying to use the notion that if you could actually test somebody’s blood and see if they have had the disease and we’re already immune to it, then you could allow them back into the community because they wouldn’t be carriers,” he said.

“It’s a novel concept, and maybe it would work. They’re talking about essentially having a COVID license. But just to implement something like that and then ultimately enforce it would be incredibly difficult.”

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