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Coronavirus death rates are much higher for people with chronic illnesses

Patients with underlying conditions were also more likely to be hospitalized.
Leslie Bottrell
A resident physician stands outside a room at an Intensive Care Unit as a nurse suctions the lungs of a COVID-19 patient at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. on April 20, 2020.John Minchillo / AP file

Death rates are 12 times higher for coronavirus patients with chronic illnesses than for others who become infected, a new U.S. government report says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday highlights the dangers posed by heart disease, diabetes and lung ailments. These are the top three health problems found in COVID-19 patients, the report suggests.

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The report is based on 1.3 million laboratory-confirmed coronavirus cases reported to the agency from January 22 through the end of May.

Information on health conditions was available for just 22 percent of the patients. It shows that 32 percent had heart-related disease, 30 percent had diabetes and 18 percent had chronic lung disease, which includes asthma and emphysema.

Among patients with a chronic illness, about 20 percent died compared with almost 2 percent of those who were otherwise healthy. Virus patients with a chronic condition were also six times more likely to be hospitalized — 46 percent versus almost 8 percent.

People with chronic disease "are much more likely to suffer severe effects of COVID-19, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that previously healthy people can also become very ill and even die as well," Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health specialist at George Washington University, said in a statement.

Race and ethnicity data, available for just under half of patients, show 36 percent were white, 33 percent Hispanic, 22 percent black, 4 percent Asian and about 1 percent American Indian. Though the numbers are incomplete, they echo other reports that found minorities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Overall, 14 percent of patients were hospitalized and 5 percent died based on available data. Among patients aged 80 and up who died, half had a chronic illness.

Roughly equal numbers of men and women were infected, but men were more likely to have severe cases, the report found.

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