how diabetes, asthma and other underlying illnesses affect how you cope

Kirby says if you’re a sufferer, it’s essential to take your preventer, daily as prescribed. “This helps cut the risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any virus, including coronavirus,” she says. “Keeping a reliever inhaler to hand is vital, so you can use it if you get asthma symptoms.

“If your asthma symptoms get worse, and you haven’t travelled to an at-risk area or been in contact with someone who has, make an appointment to see your GP as soon as you can. If you think you might have coronavirus, use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service.”

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD is the name for certain lung conditions that cause breathing difficulties, including emphysema, which is characterised by damage to the air sacs in the lungs, and chronic bronchitis, which is a long-term condition involving inflammation of the lung’s airways. People with COPD are more likely to get coronavirus if exposed to the virus because they have damage to their epithelial lining, which makes it easier for viruses to enter the body.


Cancer patients are more susceptible due to their compromised immune system. “Various cancer drugs and treatments, like chemotherapy, mean your immune system may be suppressed,” says Prof Chung, “and this would increase your chances of catching it. And if you do get it while you have cancer, you would probably fare worse than somebody with the virus who didn’t have cancer.”


Not a health condition as such, but many of the thousands of deaths so far have involved elderly people with underlying health conditions. “The elderly are at greater risk, and government advice for the elderly to avoid crowded areas is sound advice,” says Prof Chung. “The figures we have so far seem to imply the risk increases above the age of 70. However it’s even worse for those over 80. The chances of getting it – and faring worse – increase two or three times above the age the 70, but even more so above 80.”

In terms of children, who appear to be less prone to getting the coronavirus and, if they do, getting a more benign version of the illness, Prof Chung says that a young person with an underlying health condition isn’t at a greater risk: “A young person with asthma, or heart disease, wouldn’t be predisposed to get the coronavirus or suffer from it, in the same way an adult with the condition would,” he says. “Maybe it’s their immune system, and how it’s different from older people, but in terms of their susceptibility of getting the coronavirus, health conditions in young people don’t seem to increase their chances of catching it.”


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