Every time I go ‘inside the out’ (with acknowledgement to Pixar Animation Studios) I tell myself I will not set foot out of the house again until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control or I have been given the much-anticipated vaccine.

Like many of our readers, I am faced with the added burden of comorbidities that place me in the category of those who may contract severe COVID-19. Apart from taking immuno-suppressants every day to help my body fight Rheumatoid Arthritis I also suffer from hypertension, thanks to spending most of the last 30 years in newsrooms. If you think reading the news is stressful, try publishing it!

Before the pandemic burst onto the scene, I had never heard the word comorbidity, which is the presence of one or more additional disease or condition together with a primary medical condition. In other words, comorbidities are the accomplices which conspire with COVID-19 to kill. According to studies, the top five are: diabetes, hypertension, HIV, obesity, and asthma/chronic respiratory disease.

And it seems the more comorbidities you have, the greater are your chances of dying. In June, the Western Cape Department of Health reported that amongst those who had died from the Coronavirus, 65% had more than one comorbidity, and two out of five had three or more.

According to aidsmap.com people with HIV in the Western Cape are about two-and-a-half times more likely to die of COVID-19 than others, as shown by an analysis of people receiving public sector health care.

Dr Mary-Ann Davies of the Western Cape Health Department, who last month presented a preliminary analysis of risk factors for COVID-19 deaths in the province, said epidemiologists have found that men are 40% more likely to die of COVID-19 than women, and that the risk of death increases in each age band over the age of 40.

Diabetes raises the risk of death more substantially than hypertension or chronic kidney disease.

In the case of diabetes, researchers found that poorly-controlled or uncontrolled diabetes was associated with a substantially higher risk of death from COVID-19 than controlled diabetes. Whereas people with controlled diabetes had a four-fold greater risk of death compared to people without diabetes, the risk of death was nine times higher in people with poorly-controlled diabetes and 13 times higher in people with uncontrolled diabetes.

Davies estimated that at the time of the study around half the deaths from COVID-19 in Western Cape public sector patients were attributable to diabetes, while hypertension (19%), HIV (12%), chronic kidney disease (9%) and TB (2%) were also implicated in deaths.

According to information released by the Western Cape Government you are at high risk of severe COVID-19 if you are 55 years and older or an adult with diabetes. You are at moderate risk if you are an adult on TB treatment, have HIV, kidney disease, hypertension, chronic lung disease, or if you are on cancer treatment.

If you fall into any of the above categories, do not go out unless necessary, discourage visitors in your home, keep completely separate from anyone in your home who is infected with the Coronavirus and do not visit a healthcare facility unless you really need to.

Those with a higher risk are advised to use a face mask as much as possible, to adhere to social distancing rules and to practise good hygiene. If you or others in your household have been out, take a shower or a bath and change your clothes.

If you are suffering from an existing comorbidity, ensure that you keep on taking your prescribed medication.

If you have a sore throat, start coughing or experience a loss of smell or taste, contact your doctor or the COVID-19 hotline immediately to arrange for a test. Early tests are the most reliable.

Should you experience any of the following you must seek help immediately: difficulty breathing, confusion, inability to wake up completely, chest pain or pressure that will not go away, sudden weakness of an arm, leg or the side of your face, or sudden loss of speech or vision.

We all know that suffering from a chronic disease is not easy and it is tough knowing that you are at risk of severe COVID-19. While our various diseases have different effects on our lives, the one thing we must be sure to do during the pandemic is to ask for help when we feel we need it.

Ask someone to do your shopping for you, organise home deliveries of your medicine, speak to your doctor when you are not feeling well and share your worries with someone you trust.

The provincial hotline is: 021 928 4102. The national hotline is 0800 029 999.

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