One of the most curious aspects of COVID-19 is that when infected, some people remain completely asymptomatic, while others end up hospitalized and unable to breathe. Since the start of the pandemic, health experts and researchers have been studying the highly infectious virus in hopes of understanding why the type of infections varies so dramatically on a person-by-person basis. According to one infectious disease expert, it boils down to three factors. Read on to find out the three most common factors that influence the type and severity of COVID symptoms—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
The first and only controllable part of the equation is how the individual is infected and the dose of the virus they receive, says Carlos R. Oliveira, MD, Ph.D., Yale Medicine pediatric infectious disease doctor. “For example, if an individual infected with COVID-19 coughs directly on you, you will likely get a much higher dose of the virus than if you are infected by touching a contaminated surface,” he points out. “A higher infectious dose usually leads to more rapid onset and more severe symptoms.”
This is a prime example of why wearing a mask and social distancing is so crucial in protecting yourself and others. Multiple studies have concluded that masks are effective in preventing tiny, infected viral particles from transmitting from person-to-person. While they might not stop all of them, they will certainly help reduce the viral load, likely resulting in a less serious infection.
Another crucial factor in determining the type and severity of COVID symptoms is “the health status at the time of infection,” according to Dr. Oliveira. Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that people with certain pre-existing conditions were more prone to severe infection than others.
According to the CDC, anyone who is suffering from cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), Down Syndrome, heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies, an immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2), severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2), sickle cell disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, are pregnant, or a smoker, are at the highest risk of severe infection.
“It is especially important for people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and those who live with them, to protect themselves from getting COVID-19,” the CDC warns.
Age is also a very important factor, according to Dr. Oliveira, influencing not only the severity of the virus but the symptoms it can manifest. “Several studies (including Agyeman, Mayo Clinic, 2020) have shown that in adults, loss of smell is a common early manifestation, occurring in up to 40-60% of infections. It may also be the only manifestation of infection in some adults,” he points out.
In contrast, loss of smell is rarely seen in children, he adds, citing the COVID Symptom Study. “In fact, gastrointestinal symptoms, like abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and diarrhea, are frequent initial manifestations in children, occurring in about 1 in 3 cases.”
“As is the case for many infectious diseases, the progression of discernible symptoms can be quite variable,” Dr. Oliveira says.
Due to the fact that asymptomatic spread is a common characteristic of COVID, taking precaution even when you feel healthy is crucial in order to prevent the spread of the virus. So follow Dr. Anthony Fauci‘s fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.