As Christian County health officials have announced each of the 25 local deaths attributed to COVID-19, a trend has become clear: underlying health conditions.
Federal health officials have warned that people with a number of conditions are at higher risk of serious complications from the virus.
But people who have underlying health conditions and then die after contracting COVID-19 are not always seen as seriously unhealthy before their infection. Some don’t even know they have underlying health issues until they test positive for COVID-19.
Here’s what that means in Christian County:
The most common underlying conditions in people who’ve died locally from the virus include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and lung disease, health department spokeswoman Amanda Sweeney told Hoptown Chronicle.
An unknown threat
The increased risk for serious illness presented by underlying health conditions isn’t always as straightforward as some may think.
Not all local COVID-19 patients have realized they had an underlying condition until after testing positive for the virus, Sweeney noted.
“There may be various others out there who may feel as if they are completely healthy but have conditions they don’t even realize they have,” Sweeney said. “Those cases can also become severe and even life-threatening.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine in 10 people with kidney disease don’t know they have it. An estimated one in five don’t realize they have conditions including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Christian County at a ‘higher risk’
Based on recent community health assessments, there is a large number of residents that could be considered at a higher risk for the virus.
In 2016, 48% of Christian County residents reported high blood pressure, which was well above state and national averages — 39% and 29%, respectively. Another assessment completed earlier this year (which didn’t track hypertension) shows the county also ranks slightly higher than the national averages for its diabetic and obese populations.
Deaths and hospitalizations by age
Eight in 10 COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been in adults 65 years old and older, according to the CDC. In Christian County, where coronavirus deaths have ranged from a 49-year-old to a 99-year-old, that number has been closer to 9 in 10.
The rate of hospitalization with COVID-19 has also shown to increase with age — consistently until about 75 years old, at which point there is a steeper increase in risk level.
However, patient demographics from Jennie Stuart Medical Center show that more than a third of local COVID-19 hospitalizations have been among people younger than 60 years old.
“Many often think that it is just the older population who can be affected, but understanding our overall health stats as well as understanding what ‘underlying factors’ mean, we can see that COVID-19 could be serious for many of us,” Sweeney said. “That is why it is so important for the community to adhere to the guidelines and work together to prevent the spread.”