ATLANTA, Georgia: Diabetes, heart disease and long-term lung problems are the most common underlying conditions among Americans hospitalised with the illness caused by the new coronavirus, but more than one in five people requiring intensive care had no such health issues, according to a report issued on Tuesday (Mar 31).
The findings show that higher percentages of COVID-19 patients with underlying conditions were being admitted to hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
That echoes patterns seen in other countries hit hard by the pandemic.
Preliminary data from 7,162 COVID-19 patients for whom the CDC had complete information as of Saturday show that 37.6 per cent had one or more underlying health condition.
Widespread testing to identify the full extent of the US outbreak has not been available.
Most people infected with the coronavirus develop mild but persistent symptoms such as fever or cough.
But difficulty breathing is a symptom sending many people to the hospital, and the new data show how underlying health conditions heighten the odds of complications requiring hospitalisation.
Researchers found that 78 per cent of ICU patients with COVID-19 had at least one underlying health problem, including diabetes (seen in 32 per cent of patients), cardiovascular disease (29 per cent) and chronic lung disease (21 per cent). Twelve per cent had long-term kidney disease and 9 per cent had a weakened immune system.
Among hospitalised patients who were not sick enough to need intensive care, 71 per cent had at least one underlying condition, the CDC analysis found.
In contrast, among people with COVID-19 who did not need to be hospitalised, only 27 per cent had one or more long-term health issues.
But being free of chronic conditions offers no guarantees against serious illness as 22 per cent of COVID-19 patients who ended up in an ICU had no history of underlying health problems.
"It is not yet known whether the severity or level of control of underlying health conditions affects the risk for severe disease associated with COVID-19," according to the report by the CDC's COVID-19 Response Team.
"Many of these underlying health conditions are common in the United States" with an estimated 10.1 per cent of US adults diagnosed with diabetes, 10.6 per cent with heart disease, and 5.9 per cent with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), along with 7.9 per cent of people of all ages who suffer from asthma.