About 1.7 billion people have at least one underlying health condition that puts them at increased risk for serious COVID-19 illness if infected, according to a study published this week in The Lancet medical journal.
That translates to 22 percent of the global population having at least one of 11 health conditions, including cardiovascular disease or diabetes, that puts them at increased risk for negative health outcomes if they contract COVID-19.
The study, published Monday, is intended to help countries protect people at highest risk for severe illness and death from COVID-19 through increased social distancing measures, medical care and other resources for those populations, the researchers wrote.
“In the absence of a vaccine, at-risk individuals might need to be shielded by more intensive physical distancing measures than individuals in the wider population,” the researchers wrote.
That includes 5 percent of people under the age of 20, and more than 66 percent of those 70 and older, who have at least one of 11 health conditions determined to put them at increased risk for serious COVID-19 illness.
However, increased risk for people with underlying health issues could be “quite modest,” the study found.
The authors estimated that 349 million people — 4 percent of the global population — would require hospitalization, including 1 percent of those younger than 20, and nearly 20 percent of people 70 and older, including those without underlying health conditions.
Countries with higher concentrations of people at increased risk for serious COVID-19 illness, like Japan and most European countries, tended to have older populations that are more likely to have underlying health conditions. African countries with high HIV/AIDS prevalence and small islands with high rates of diabetes, like Puerto Rico, also had high shares of populations at increased risk of serious COVID-19 illness.
A separate study published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined 1.3 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and found people with underlying health conditions were six times more likely to be hospitalized with severe COVID-19 illness and 12 times more likely to die of the disease than otherwise healthy coronavirus patients.