Coronavirus can affect anyone, but people with pre-existing health problems and older people are thought to be at greater risk of developing severe symptoms.
If you have a long-term health condition you may be feeling anxious. So here’s what experts are advising.
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Who is at risk?
Having a health condition does not make you more likely than anyone else to contract coronavirus, which is a respiratory disease.
But it appears people who are older, those with weakened immune systems and people who have underlying chronic conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, or asthma, are more at risk of severe effects.
Most people recover from coronavirus quickly after a few days’ rest. For some people, it can be more severe and sometimes life-threatening. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu:
- a cough
- a high temperature
- shortness of breath
People at higher risk include those who are over 70, regardless of whether they have a medical condition or not, and people under 70 with any of the following underlying health conditions:
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a BMI of 40 or above)
- those who are pregnant
Everyone is being told to follow social-distancing measures to help reduce the chance of catching and spreading coronavirus. People in higher risk groups are strongly advised to follow the advice.
From Monday, around 1.5m people at the greatest risk of complications, such as patients having treatment for cancer or people on immunosuppressant therapy, will be asked to isolate at home for 12 weeks to protect themselves. They will get special guidance from the NHS.
If you think you are in this highest risk category and have not received a letter from the NHS by Sunday 29 March 2020 or been contacted by your GP, get in touch with your GP or hospital doctor by phone or online.
I have asthma, what should I do?
Asthma UK’s advice is to keep taking your preventer inhaler (usually brown) daily as prescribed. This will help cut your risk of an asthma attack being triggered by any respiratory virus, including coronavirus.
Carry your blue reliever inhaler with you every day, in case you feel your asthma symptoms flaring up. If your asthma is getting worse and there is a risk you might have coronavirus, contact the online NHS 111 coronavirus service.
Start a peak flow diary if you have a peak flow meter as it can be a good way of tracking your asthma and helping to tell the difference between your asthma symptoms and coronavirus illness.
I’m elderly, should I self-isolate?
The latest advice from the government’s chief medical adviser is that everyone – regardless of age – should now be stopping non-essential contact with others to help stop the spread of the virus and protect the most vulnerable. That means avoiding gatherings with friends and family as well as crowded places.
This is particularly important for people over 70 and those with underlying health conditions because they are at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms if they become infected.
People at the highest risk of complications – around 1.5m people – are being asked to isolate at home for 12 weeks to protect themselves. They will get special guidance from the NHS.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, recommends that people with elderly friends and relatives make sure they check on them regularly.
Older people and their families can call Age UK Advice for free on 0800 169 65 65.