At the start of the outbreak, many medical professionals were worried that patients with asthma may be a particularly vulnerable group for COVID-19. After all, asthma can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing and COVID-19 is known to cause very aggressive forms of pneumonia in severe cases. However, among the thousands of people who died in New York due to the coronavirus, those with asthma didn’t even make the top 10 list of comorbidities.
Just 5% of coronavirus deaths in New York involved patients with asthma
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is an acute respiratory disease that can lead to respiratory failure and death.
Bearing this in mind, one might anticipate that those with chronic respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, would be at a greater risk for the most severe symptoms of COVID-19.
As the outbreak started to unfold in the United States, many took to pharmacies, depleting stocks of some antibiotics and antiviral medicines, as well as albuterol, a common asthma inhaler medication. About 25 million people living in the United States have asthma.
However, it’s striking to see respiratory illnesses so underrepresented in comorbidities reported for patients with COVID-19.
According to the New York Times, data on hospitalized cases and deaths due to COVID-19 suggests that asthma doesn’t make it in the top 10 comorbidities.
Only 5% of COVID-19 deaths in New York state were among asthmatic patients, although the condition is prevalent in about 8% of the country’s population. However, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is more common among the elderly than asthma, made it on the list at #7.
The top 10 COVID-19 comorbidities listed by New York, in order, were:
high cholesterol coronary artery disease
atrial fibrillation (a heart condition)
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
congestive heart failure
From this list, it seems like morbid obesity, diabetes, and chronic heart disease are much more dangerous than asthma.
These findings are supported by a commentary published on April 3rd in the journal The Lancet, which concluded asthma was heavily under-represented in COVID-19 comorbidities from China, Canada, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
While these findings suggest that asthma doesn’t increase the risk of developing the worst COVID-19 outcomes, these are based on preliminary data. As more robust data becomes available, we’ll have a more accurate picture of how asthma fits into the COVID-19 comorbidity roster. So, asthma patients should continue to exercise great caution.
For now, this is all quite positive news, considering the concerns of many patients with asthma. For instance, it could be that those with chronic respiratory disease have a different immune response that may even protect them against COVID-19, but this remains to be seen as more studies look into this.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.