According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone is at risk for getting COVID-19 if exposed to the virus, although some people are more likely to become severely ill or die. People at increased risk for severe illness are older adults, pregnant people, and those with certain underlying medical conditions.
Severe illness means that a person may require hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe, or they may even die.
Older adults are at the highest risk for severe illness from COVID-19. As people get older, their risk for severe illness and hospitalization increases. Underlying medical conditions can increase this risk (see below). The best way for older adults to decrease their risk of getting COVID-19 is by getting vaccinated and taking precautions to prevent getting COVID-19.
Learn more about precautions older adults should consider to protect themselves from COVID-19.
According to the CDC, the overall risk of severe illness is low, but compared to non-pregnant people, pregnant people are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Contributing risk factors include having underlying medical conditions as well as the pregnant person’s age or occupation.
For example, if a pregnant person is not able to physically distance from people who may be sick in a work setting, they are at increased risk. Pregnant people with COVID-19 might also be at increased risk for other poor outcomes like preterm birth (delivering before 37 weeks).
People with Certain Underlying Medical Conditions
According to the CDC, adults of any age with the following conditions may be more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic lung diseases, including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate-to-severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension
- Dementia or other neurological conditions
- Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
- Down syndrome
- Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies or hypertension
- HIV infection
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system), which can have many causes including inherited traits or prolonged use of corticosteroids or other immune weakening medicines that can result in immunodeficiency
- Liver disease
- Overweight and obesity; overweight defined as body mass index (BMI) >25 kg/m2 but <30 kg/m2), obesity defined as BMI of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2, and severe obesity defined as BMI of ≥ 40 kg/m2
- Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
- Smoking, currently or previously
- Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
- Stroke or cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain
- Substance use disorders
For more information about these medical conditions and COVID-19, please visit the CDC website.
*This list is alphabetized and not listed in order of risk.
Children have been less affected by COVID-19 than adults, but they can be infected by the virus that causes COVID-19 and some may develop severe illness. Children with underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to other children without underlying medical conditions. CDC indicates that children with the following conditions may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19: medical complexity; genetic, neurologic, metabolic conditions; or congenital heart disease. In addition, children with obesity, diabetes, asthma or chronic lung disease, sickle cell disease, or immunosuppression can also be at increased risk for sever illness from COVID-19.
Other People Who Need Extra Precautions
In addition to the groups listed above, there are other people who should consider taking extra precautions against COVID-19 including racial and ethnic minority groups, people living in rural communities, people with disabilities, people with developmental and behavioral disorders and people experiencing homelessness. Learn more.
Content adapted from CDC materials.