Majority of virus deaths in Malaysia involved other health issues too, says expert

The risk of contracting Covid-19 is higher in older people and those with chronic conditions.

KUALA LUMPUR: More than 70% of deaths in Malaysia due to Covid-19 had comorbidities of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), says exercise medicine expert Dr Lee Chee Pheng.

He said the risk of contracting Covid-19 is higher in people with weak immune defences who could further be compromised in the event of chronic conditions such as heart and lung diseases as well as diabetes.

“Adding to the burden can be emotional stress, lack of sleep and physical exhaustion, which can further make one prone to diseases by weakening immunity.

“The presence of risk factors for NCDs like tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol during childhood and adolescence has significant association with the development of disease in adulthood,” he said in his column published by Bernama.

NCDs are the world’s biggest killers today. According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, of 56.9 million global deaths recorded in 2016, 40.5 million or 71% were due to NCDs.

Lee said while maintaining a healthy diet with foods that boost immunity could help fight infections, physical activity and nutrition could also help boost the immune system.

He quoted WHO guidelines in 2010 stating that an adult aged between 18 and 64 years should perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (PA) per week or 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic PA, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous-intensity PA.

“Malaysia has 36.9% physically inactive adults. The level of inactivity is higher in females (50%) compared to males (24.7%),” he added.

He said foods rich in Vitamin C, D, and E improve the immune system by increasing infection-fighting cells.

“The antioxidants in Vitamin C and E play an important role in controlling infections and the functioning of the immune system.

“Also, keeping the body hydrated and having adequate sleep can help in curtailing the disease. It is important to keep in mind, however, that what works in combating Covid-19 itself is yet unknown,” he said.

Lee also highlighted a study by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention which concludes that older people with pre-existing health conditions are more prone to getting affected by Covid-19.

In Italy, he said, nearly one-fourth (23%) of Italians were over the age of 65 years, with many having pre-existing conditions like hypertension and respiratory ailments that predispose them to contracting Covid-19.

“An analysis of Covid-19 cases in the US shows the highest case-fatality rate in persons aged 65 years and above, indicating risk of disease and death.”

He said according to the report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019, individuals at highest risk are those above 60 years of age with comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases.

Meanwhile, a study of patients hospitalised for Covid-19 in Wuhan found almost half of the cases (48%) suffered from underlying chronic diseases. Of total cases, 30% had hypertension, followed by diabetes (19%) and coronary heart disease (8%).

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