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Heart disease main underlying condition in COVID-19 deaths

April 29, 2020 GMT
This April 22, 2020 photo provided by the Oregon Health & Science University, showing left to right Evan Fontaine, Dr. Albert Chi, Dennis Child, Whitney Menzel, and Dr. Stephanie Nonas test out a new ventilator created with 3D-printing technology at the Oregon Health & Science University, in Portland, Ore. Amid a global shortage of ventilators, a team from Oregon Health & Science University has come up with a low-cost version produced with 3D-printing technology, the university announced Friday, April 24, 2020. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OHSU via AP)
This April 22, 2020 photo provided by the Oregon Health & Science University, showing left to right Evan Fontaine, Dr. Albert Chi, Dennis Child, Whitney Menzel, and Dr. Stephanie Nonas test out a new ventilator created with 3D-printing technology at the Oregon Health & Science University, in Portland, Ore. Amid a global shortage of ventilators, a team from Oregon Health & Science University has come up with a low-cost version produced with 3D-printing technology, the university announced Friday, April 24, 2020. (Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OHSU via AP)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The number of known deaths from the coronavirus in Oregon topped 100 on Wednesday.

The Oregon Health Authority reported 61 new cases of the coronavirus and two deaths, bringing the total known death toll to 101. Of almost 55,000 people tested, 2,446 results were positive.

All those who died in the state from the coronavirus had underlying health conditions, said health authority spokesman Jonathan Modie. Almost 60% had cardiovascular disease, according to a table published by the Oregon Health Authority late Tuesday. The data, based on case interviews and medical records of 73 people who died, marked the first time the agency specified what the underlying conditions have been.

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“It does show the insidiousness and severity of this disease and how much it attacks the body,” said Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority.

A person who died may have had more than one underlying condition, the OHA noted.

The second-highest underlying medical condition was a neurological or neurodevelopmental issue. Neurological disorders include epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebrovascular diseases including stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Other underlying conditions included diabetes, in 33% of cases; lung disease, 29%; kidney disease, 25%; 18% with compromised immune systems; and liver disease, 7%.

Dawn Nolt, associate professor of pediatrics of the division of infectious diseases at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said she is not surprised that diseases of major organs and poor immune system are a factor in so many deaths.

“You are probably going to have a harder time combating the infection and in fact may have more serious consequences,” Nolt said.

Around half of the confirmed deaths in Oregon of the coronavirus were people 80 or older. One-quarter were 70-79.

Unless state health officials separate single condition from multiple conditions, it will be impossible to assess whether it is a particular condition, or some combination of conditions, that makes COVID-19 patients most at risk of dying, said Chunhuei Chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

“For example, I can’t say that cardiovascular disease is the highest risk of underlying condition to die from COVID-19,” Chi said.

If a person had smoked before and quit, that was also listed as an underlying condition, with 25% of fatal cases in that category. However, OHA did not specify how long ago they quit smoking.

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“To a former smoker, it might present some residual injury that makes it a little harder to combat the infection,” said Nolt.

Or the numbers could simply reflect that a greater percentage of the population smoked when those people were younger than the percentage today, she said.

Only 1.4% of those who died were listed as current smokers.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those at high risk of being severely ill from COVID-19 include people over 65, those living in a nursing home or long-term care facility, and those with underlying medical conditions, including chronic lung disease or serious heart conditions.