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Coronavirus and Underlying Conditions

Jackie Powder

Having an underlying condition is one of the biggest risk factors for developing serious illness when infected with COVID-19. What is an underlying condition and what should you do if you have one? Here are some basics about what is known and the steps you can take to be as safe as possible.


What is an underlying condition?

Chronic illnesses—including hypertension, respiratory disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and cancer—are considered underlying conditions that may put people at greater risk for severe disease and death if they are infected with COVID-19. The same is true for individuals taking immunosuppressive medications, such as transplant patients, as well as people with certain blood disorders.

How do you stay well?

People living with underlying conditions should do everything possible to lessen the chances of developing a severe case of COVID-19. It is particularly important to adhere strictly to social distancing measures, avoid nonessential travel, stock up on medications, and stay home as much as possible.

What should you do if you feel sick?

If a person with an underlying condition becomes sick—even if they think it is only a cold—they should promptly inform their doctor. It is important, especially for people with a chronic health condition, to ignore some media reports that have suggested that infected people who don’t experience shortness of breath can recover at home and do not require medical attention.

Eric Toner, MD, is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.