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Protecting Yourself from COVID-19 If You Are at High Risk for Illness

Apr. 18, 2020

COVID-19 is a new disease, so healthcare experts are still learning about its risk factors. 


However, based on the information available today, there are findings that indicate some people may be at higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 than others.

Jennifer Wall Forrester, MD, associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and UC Health physician, helps explain who is at higher risk and how you can protect yourself.

Who Is At Risk for Severe Illness from COVID-19?

“Anyone can get COVID-19 but certain people are more at risk for severe illness,” said Dr. Forrester. “Older adults are particularly at risk for admissions to the intensive care unit (ICU) and even death related to COVID-19. People with compromised immune systems and people with long-term medical conditions, like chronic lung diseases or heart disease, are also at risk for more serious disease progression.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines all of the following groups of people who are at greater risk for severe illness from COVID-19 as follows:

  • Adults who are 65 years and older.
  • People who have serious heart conditions.
  • People with chronic lung disease.
  • People with moderate to severe asthma.
  • People with diabetes.
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis.
  • People with liver disease.
  • People who are immunocompromised.

According to Dr. Forrester, immunocompromised means having an impaired immune system. There are several factors that can cause a patient to be immunocompromised. Patients receiving cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation, or have immune deficiencies will be considered immunocompromised.

The reason older adults and people with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk is because of their immune systems. A stronger immune system stands a better chance of fighting off infectious diseases. As we get older, however, our immune systems weaken, so it becomes challenging for older adults to avoid having severe symptoms if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.

How to Protect Yourself

If you or a loved one are at risk for severe illness, there are simple steps you can take to protect yourselves. The CDC recommends doing the following:

  • Stay at home as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Practice social distancing (staying 6 feet away from people) with people who are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

“Overall, I would recommend staying at home as much as possible along with practicing social distancing as the best ways to protect yourself,” said Dr. Forrester. “If you have mild respiratory symptoms or develop symptoms, call your primary care physician for specific advice before going to urgent care or coming to the office. If mild symptoms develop, it’s best to self-quarantine to avoid spreading the disease to loved ones.”