Most Louisiana coronavirus victims had diabetes, other pre-existing conditions, data shows

Nearly every person who has died from the coronavirus in Louisiana had a pre-existing condition of some kind, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Health.

The data show that 95% of the 83 Louisianans who had died from the virus as of Thursday had at least one pre-existing condition, and many had more than one. The most common condition was diabetes: 41% of the dead were diabetic, according to the data; 31% had chronic kidney disease, and 28% were obese.

By Friday, 119 Louisianans had died from the virus, according to the LDH.

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The figures on underlying conditions underscore what experts have been saying about the coronavirus all along: that it is much more lethal when it infects people who have other health problems.

Such problems are especially prevalent in Louisiana, and in New Orleans in particular. The Data Center released a report this week showing that the rates of diabetes, hypertension and other conditions are significantly higher here than in some other places hit hard by the virus. Experts have said that is likely at least one of the reasons why Orleans Parish has had the highest per-capita death rate from the coronavirus thus far.

The Data Center’s report showed, for instance, that 13% of New Orleanians are diabetic, compared to 6% of the residents of King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, an early center of the disease. Nearly 40% of New Orleans residents have high blood pressure, according to the Data Center report.

While the data might be frightening to people with pre-existing conditions, Dr. Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane who studies infectious diseases and public health, said it doesn’t mean coronavirus is likely to kill them. It simply means they’re at more risk if they get it than those who don’t have such conditions. It also doesn’t mean they’re more prone to getting infected.

For instance, Hassig said, data from China suggests that perhaps 10% of the people who are infected with the virus and have serious pulmonary conditions will die. That’s a higher rate than the general population, but it still means most will survive.

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The data released by the LDH Friday does not attempt to determine what role, if any, pre-existing conditions may have played in the deaths chalked up to the coronavirus. Some of the conditions, like obesity, are not diagnosed conditions as much as clinical observations.

LDH officials said a person is considered obese if they have a body-mass index of 30 or more. That is calculated by dividing a patient’s weight in pounds by their height in inches squared, and then multiplying by 703.

Most jurisdictions have not released detailed data about the underlying conditions of those who have died from coronavirus, making it difficult to determine what the Louisiana data prove about how the state’s victims compare to those in other states.

If you have questions about coronavirus, please email our newsroom at online@theadvocate.com.


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