Skip to main content.

How COVID-19 Affects People With Chronic Diseases

Posted March 20, 2020 by Michael Tan, M.D., FACP, FIDSA

Washing Hands

What is COVID-19? 

COVID-19 stands for “COronaVIrus Disease 2019.  COVID-19 is the disease caused by SARS-CoV2 which is a type of coronavirus.  It is characterized by fever, cough, and shortness of breath, but it is only one of many viruses that can cause similar symptoms. In the context of the current outbreak, COVID-19, SARS-CoV2, and coronavirus are often used interchangeably.


Protecting those most at risk from COVID-19

If a young, healthy person contracts COVID-19, they are likely to suffer only mild symptoms and recover completely. However, for those who are elderly or ill, COVID-19 can lead to severe complications, pneumonia, and death. The fatality rate rises dramatically with age and is far higher than that for seasonal flu.

According to Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “The flu has a mortality of 0.1%. COVID-19 has a mortality of 10 times that,” but this is the average mortality, and again, it rises dramatically with age.

When you wash your hands and practice social distancing, you are protecting not only yourself but all those who are most at risk as well. This includes those over the age of 65 and those whose immune systems have been weakened by chronic diseases.


Complications from a weakened immune system 

As part of normal aging, our immune systems weaken and make it harder to fight infections like COVID-19. Other conditions also lead to lower immunity, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, lung disease, and cancer. Certain immunosuppressing medications can lower one’s ability to fight infections, too.


How to minimize the risk of infection 

There is no vaccine yet for COVID-19, and there are no approved treatments for COVID-19. This is why it is critical for the elderly and immunocompromised to avoid exposure to the virus. This means avoiding anyone who is ill and staying away from crowded spaces.


• Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if hand washing is not possible.

• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

• Avoid going out and maintain six feet between you and others. The virus can live for several hours, possibly longer, on surfaces, so use a tissue, gloves, or a sleeve when touching shopping carts, door handles, elevator buttons, or frequently touched surfaces.  Using disinfecting wipes prior to use of such devices may help reduce transmission risk as well.

• Regularly wipe down your doorknobs, faucets, and cell phone with disinfectant.

• A person can likely pass on the virus before they show symptoms or if they have the virus but don’t show symptoms, so ask those you live with to take these measures, too.

• If you take immunosuppressing medication, don’t stop without talking with your doctor.


Be prepared 

If an outbreak of COVID-19 develops in your community, you can take additional steps to protect yourself. Ask your doctor for an advanced supply of your medications and, if possible, have them shipped to your door. Stock up on a few weeks’ worth of groceries to cut down on trips outside. If you live alone, ask family or neighbors to check up on you by phone, email, or social media.


Do you have an elderly or ill loved one who is at greater risk? Offer to shop for their groceries and medications, and check on them often.

If you have additional questions regarding COVID-19, call our 24/7 hotline at 234.867.6314 or visit


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.