MAR 20, 2020 7:46 AM PDT

Why Does COVID-19 Kill So Many Older People?

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Since early statistics began to emerge from China, it seemed that COVID-19 tended to affect older people more than younger ones. And now, data from Italy is matching this finding, with the average age of those already dead standing at around 79.5. But why is this? Why does COVID-19 disproportionately affect older people? 

To begin, as we get older, our immune systems tend to deteriorate, meaning that they are less likely to fight off infections such as those caused by COVID-19. According to Sean Leng, a professor of medicine at John Hopkins University, “Studies over the years have shown that in most people, their immune function is pretty okay in their 60s, or even in their 70s. The immune functions go down rather quickly after age 75 or 80.” 

As the number of white blood cells available to find and eradicate infections declines with age, older people are at a higher risk of having a dangerous immune response known as a cytokine storm. Although cytokines are proteins that signal the body to better fight against infection, during a storm, the body produces an excess of these causing severe inflammation, a high fever and oftentimes, organ failure. This means that among older adults, their leading causes of death from COVID-19 is respiratory failure likely followed by the cytokine storm. 

Even before COVID-19 sets in however, a weaker immune system also means a higher susceptibility to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions and cancer that compound to further weaken one’s ability to fight off infection. More common in older people, this factor is plays a strong role when considering recent statistics from Italy demonstrating that 48.5% of people who died had three or more underlying illnesses while 25.6 had two, and 25.1% had at least one- all in all meaning that just 0.8% pf deaths had no other underlying illness. 

Other factors that may leave older people more susceptible to negative outcomes from COVID-19 too. For example, older people may be less able than younger ones to cough and sneeze, making it harder for them to clear their airways which may allow the virus to spread more efficiently. More than this, compounded lung damage in older adults from smoking or living in polluted air may also increase their vulnerability. 

 

Sources: Vox, Bloomberg 


 

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
MAR 30, 2021
Microbiology
A Marburg Virus Treatment Approach is Identified
MAR 30, 2021
A Marburg Virus Treatment Approach is Identified
Marburg virus causes severe hemorrhagic fever; its fatality ratio can be as high as 88 percent. Researchers may have now ...
APR 01, 2021
Health & Medicine
Flavanol-rich Foods Protect Heart from Stress
APR 01, 2021
Flavanol-rich Foods Protect Heart from Stress
Drinking hot cocoa is comforting on cold winter nights, and new research from the University of Birmingham shows that it ...
APR 13, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A Color-Changing "Invisible Tattoo" for Long-Term Health Monitoring
APR 13, 2021
A Color-Changing "Invisible Tattoo" for Long-Term Health Monitoring
German researchers have developed an innovative method for continuously tracking and monitoring biomarkers and drugs cir ...
APR 01, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Analyzing nitrogen dioxide with deep learning
APR 01, 2021
Analyzing nitrogen dioxide with deep learning
Researchers from Penn State are looking to deep learning to act as a method for improving air quality predictions. The r ...
APR 19, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Insight Into the Molecular Basis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
APR 19, 2021
Insight Into the Molecular Basis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
New research has shown how variants in an immune gene can lead to a high risk of developing the autoimmune disorder rheu ...
APR 20, 2021
Cardiology
How Low Can You Go? Diastolic Blood Pressure Standards May Change
APR 20, 2021
How Low Can You Go? Diastolic Blood Pressure Standards May Change
Blood pressure readings are a standard part of even the most basic health checks. Now some researchers are suggesting th ...
Loading Comments...