Elderly man (illustrative)
Elderly man (illustrative) Flash90

What’s your “Covid age”? As many people around the world resign themselves to the notion that coronavirus may be here to stay and will join colds and flus as regular seasonal guests, the question of minimizing risk factors looms larger. After all, we already have a vaccine for influenza, but around half a million people still die from it every year. Why should we expect better from a vaccine against coronavirus?

That’s one of the reasons why, while chronological age remains probably the largest single factor predicting who will be susceptible to Covid-19, researchers have been busy for months trying to assess other risk factors, ones that may be under our control to varying degrees. And it turns out that there’s quite a lot a person can do to increase his chances of survival in the post-coronavirus era.

The idea that a person has various sorts of “ages” is not new. Doctors specializing in respiratory diseases have been using the concept of “lung age” for years, assessing it with a spirometer, which measures the strength of a person’s breathing. Relative age is also a factor in infertility and many other conditions.

With coronavirus, several key factors have been identified that seem to operate independent of age in determining risk of serious illness or death. After all, a straightforward formula of declining immune function as a person ages being responsible for more coronavirus deaths fails to account for a wide variety of phenomena observed in coronavirus wards all over the world. It also fails to explain why young children with undeveloped immune systems are seemingly so resistant to this new disease.

Foremost among the risk factors, as already indicated by a number of reputable studies, is overweight, and specifically obesity. In a study of around 17,000 coronavirus patients in UK hospitals, people with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 (which puts them in the “obese” category) were found to be 33% more likely to die than their slimmer counterparts. Another study, also cited by The Telegraph, found that 73% of Covid-19 patients in ICUs were either overweight or obese – whereas “only” 64% of the UK population falls into those categories.

The question of overlap of comorbidities is somewhat problematic when considering the second main risk factor identified – diabetes – as so many cases (around 85%) are related to overweight. All the same, it’s definitely worth noting that one third of all hospital deaths from Covid-19 in England have been those of diabetics, based on a study of over 20,000 fatalities earlier this year. The vast majority of diabetic fatalities suffered from Type 2, which is lifestyle-related (7,466 people) as opposed to Type 1 (365 people). According to The Telegraph, many doctors believe that having diabetes can actually double a person’s risk of dying of coronavirus.

A lesser-known risk factor, but still a very significant one associated with the mortality rate for Covid-19, is that of chronic kidney disfunction. Although coronavirus itself can affect the kidneys adversely, researchers have found that for those with pre-existing chronic kidney disease (not necessarily so severe as to require dialysis), the chances of succumbing to coronavirus-related complications are fifty-fifty. According to the National Kidney Foundation, “the two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure.” In other words, chronically impaired kidney function is also lifestyle-related.

If you are so inclined, you can check out an online “Covid-19 Survival Calculator” that will give you your chances of overcoming coronavirus, based on data you enter. But few people are likely to be surprised by the results. What coronavirus is telling us is something that we should have known already – healthier people do better. And old people are more likely to die (anyway).