What Are “comorbidities”?

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, recently said it was “reassuring news” that the majority of people who died from COVID-19 had multiple comorbidities. While I wouldn’t agree with the “hopeful” part, I think it’s important to take a look at what comorbidities actually are.

What does comorbidity mean anyway?

Disease is a word that refers to diseases and health conditions. It is analogous to mortality, which means death.

So why don’t we just say it? Well, these are common words that statisticians and public health professionals use when they analyze large amounts of data. (Fun fact: The CDC Public Health Journal is called MMWR, which stands for Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report .)

Thus, comorbidity means the presence of several diseases or health conditions at the same time. If someone who has died from COVID has “four comorbidities,” that means they had four other health conditions besides COVID.

What comorbidities increase the risk of dying from COVID?

So what is considered a comorbidity? Depends on who you ask. When Walensky made her infamous quote, she was referring to this report (yes, from MMWR). So let’s see how this article breaks down comorbidities.

First, they did not consider all possible comorbidities. Instead, they had a list of eight conditions they considered risk factors:

Risk factors for severe outcomes included age ≥65 years, immunosuppression, and six other major conditions. All individuals with severe outcomes had at least one risk factor; 78% of the dead had at least four.

The term “risk factors” is more accurate than “comorbidities” because 65 is not a disease. The list of risk factors from the article includes:

  • Age 65 and over
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Chronic lung (lung) disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic neurological (brain) diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic heart (heart) disease

For more information on what health conditions increase your risk of dying or becoming seriously ill from COVID, the CDC has a more comprehensive list here . For example, they include Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in neurological diseases.

These risk factors are quite common and usually occur together. For example, 17% of adults over 65 have heart problems and 27% have diabetes . We probably all have at least a few neighbors and family members who have the four risk factors on the list.

That’s why it’s not encouraging that, as Walensky said, “the vast majority of deaths, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities.” Yes, it would be worse if COVID targeted healthy people at the same rate as people with comorbidities, but if you breathed a sigh of relief at this news, you probably forgot that many Americans have these diseases. including some of them. your loved ones.

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