Are you at risk for severe COVID-19?
5 things that you should know.
1. COVID-19 symptoms and severity are highly variable.
COVID-19 spreads rapidly from person to person and can cause very different effects between individuals.1 The most common symptoms are similar to a cold or flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and tiredness.1
However, some people do not experience any symptoms at all. Others may go on to develop a severe and life-threatening form of illness requiring hospitilization, intensive care and use of a ventilator to help them breathe.2 As the pandemic has progressed, evidence of long-term effects (known as ‘long COVID’) has also emerged,3 with some people experience lasting symptoms even if their original infection was mild.3
2. Vaccines help keep people out of the hospital.
Being unvaccinated puts you at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19.4 If you do get infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, being vaccinated can reduce your risk of developing severe illness4 and hospitalization.4 Importantly, keeping up-to-date with vaccinations, including receiving a booster in a timely fashion, can maintain your protection against severe illness needing hospitilization.4
3. Many biological factors can increase your risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19.
There are a number of treatments, illnesses and clinical factors that may increase your risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Your risk of severe illness can be increased by:2,5
- increasing age, especially if you are over 65 years old
- being pregnant
- being male
- sedentary lifestyle
- taking some cancer treatments
- Mental health conditions, including depression
- Immune deficiency
- having poorly controlled blood pressure or a heart condition
- having a neurological condition, like dementia
- having an illness like cancer, kidney disease, diabetes, chronic liver disease, respiratory disease, cystic fibrosis or severe obesity
4. Your genetics may also play a role.
To determine what risk factors may be associated with severe COVID-19, researchers have examined groups of people who have been hospitalised due to COVID-19 and looked at features that they have in common.
Recent research suggests that there are genetic variants (aka normal differences) that occur more often in people with severe COVID-19 compared to people who only have mild symptoms.6 As a result, researchers have been compiling a list of these variants that can be combined with clinical risk factors to predict who is more likely to have a severe case of COVID-19 after SARS-CoV-2 infection.6 This research is the basis for the geneType for COVID-19 Severity test – a simple test to predict your personal risk of developing severe COVID-19.
5. Knowing your risk for severe COVID-19 can help you plan.
If you knew you were at high risk for severe illness would you opt to work from home? Would you skip that music festival? Would you get a booster vaccine? Knowing your risk for severe COVID-19 could allow you to make more informed decisions about all these things.
Risk assessment can be useful to shape your daily decisions and potentially to help guide early treatment decisions if you do become infected. For patients with risk factors for severe COVID-19 monoclonal antibody infusion has already been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by over 70%.7 And, a more recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that adults at risk of severe COVID-19 were 87% less likely to be hospitalized when given antiviral drugs within the first 7 days of showing symptoms.8
GeneType for COVID-19 Severity is a risk assessment incorporating genetic testing with information about your underlying medical conditions, your age and sex.6 It gives you a prediction of your likelihood of developing severe COVID-19 if you are ever infected.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms of COVID-19; Updated Feb 22 2021. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html. Accessed February 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with certain medical conditions. Updated Feb 22 2021. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html. Accessed February 2022.
- World Health Organization. Update on clinical long-term effects of COVID-19. Updated 26 March 2021. Available at: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/risk-comms-updates/update54_clinical_long_term_effects.pdf?sfvrsn=3e63eee5_8. Accessed February 2022.
- Thompson MG, et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2022;71:139–145.
- Ko JY et al. Clin Infect Dis 2021;72:e695–e703.
- Dite GS et al. Epidemiol Infect 2021;149:e162
- Weinreich DM et al. N Engl J Med 2021;385:e81.
- Gottlieb RL et al. N Engl J Med 2022;386:305–15.