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On Tuesday, Tam told reporters that despite international data revealing people over the age of 65 are considered high risk for coronavirus, it is possible at any age to become severely ill.
According to Tam, preexisting health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and other chronic immunosuppressive conditions all put someone at high risk of developing complications related to COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also warns that anyone with asthma, chronic lung and cardiovascular conditions such as lung and heart disease, smokers, people undergoing cancer treatment, those living with uncontrolled HIV and/or AIDS and anyone who has taken corticosteroids for a prolonged period of time are considered particularly vulnerable.
Information from Italy also reveals that sex plays a factor in developing the virus, with more men contracting and dying from the virus than women.
Sabra Klein, a scientist who studies sex difference in viral infections at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times that it’s unlikely experts will be able to pinpoint why some people are more susceptible to coronavirus than others. Klein posits that the pattern of men contracting the virus more than women could be “biological or behavioural” and points to men smoking in higher numbers and washing their hands less frequently as possible causes. For whatever reason, men still need to be extra cautious about protecting themselves, no matter their age.
“Being male is as much a risk factor for the coronavirus as being old,” Klein said. “People need to be aware that there is this pattern. Just like being old means you’re at higher risk, so does being male. It’s a risk factor.”
According to the World Health Organization’s March 25 situation report, there have been more than 18,000 COVID-19 related deaths worldwide approximately 413,000 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Although the most global COVID-19 related deaths have been elderly men and women, Tam says a majority of coronavirus patients have been young — they’re just experiencing mild symptoms.
According to a recent report, approximately 18 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Spain were people under 50. Similarly, in the United States, new data revealed that one in four people hospitalized in New York City are under 50. In Italy, a quarter of the country’s 28,000 cases were people between the age of 19 and 50.
“We’ve all heard of case reports of severe illness and even death, although much rarer in the younger age group,” Tam said. “That’s another reason why I say to young people…don’t think it’s an illness that just impacts the older age groups or the people with chronic underlying illnesses. All of us can potentially get this disease and you may not be able to tell if you’re the one that’s going to get particularly sick. That message, I have to admit, hasn’t been out there enough.”