Coronavirus: Risk of death rises with age, diabetes and heart disease

By | March 10, 2020
New Scientist Default Image

A study of people with the new coronavirus in two Wuhan hospitals identified risk factors for deaths due to the disease

Fei Maohua/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

People who have the new coronavirus are most likely to die if they are older or show signs of sepsis or blood clotting problems. That’s according to a study that followed a small group of people infected with the covid-19 virus from diagnosis to hospital discharge or death.

Early on in the outbreak, two hospitals in Wuhan were designated to treat people who were infected with the new coronavirus. Until 1 February, people who were diagnosed with the virus in other hospitals were transferred to one of the two for care.

By January 31, 191 adults had been treated for the virus and either discharged or died at one of the two hospitals. Bin Cao at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital and Capital Medical University in Beijing, and his colleagues assessed these cases, looking for patterns in the characteristics of those who survived the virus and those who didn’t.


The average age of these individuals was 56, and 62 per cent of them were men. Around half of them had underlying medical conditions – most commonly high blood pressure and diabetes.

Of the 191 individuals, 137 were eventually discharged and 54 died. The average time from the onset of the illness to discharge from hospital was 22 days, the team say. Those that didn’t survive the virus died an average of 18.5 days after symptoms began.

Read More:  Two Level Asthma Treatment Plan

Death was more likely in people who already had diabetes or coronary heart disease. Older people were more likely to die, as were those showing signs of sepsis or blood clotting problems. Overall, more than half of those hospitalised with the virus developed sepsis.

“Poorer outcomes in older people may be due, in part, to the age-related weakening of the immune system and increased inflammation that could promote viral replication and more prolonged responses to inflammation, causing lasting damage to the heart, brain and other organs,” said study co-author Zhibo Liu at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan.

The team also found that people with covid-19 continue to shed the virus, and could potentially be able to infect others, for around 20 days, or until they die. “The extended viral shedding noted in our study has important implications for guiding decisions around isolation precautions and antiviral treatment in patients with confirmed covid-19,” said Cao.

Journal reference: The Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/ S0140-6736(20)30566-3

Sign up to our free Health Check newsletter for a round-up of all the health and fitness news you need to know, every Saturday

More on these topics:

New Scientist – Health