Ninety-nine per cent of coronavirus deaths in Italy had pre-existing medical conditions, study finds

The research by Italy's National Institute of Health suggests people with existing illnesses are far more likely to die from coronavirus.

Paramedics on their way to the emergency room of the Cotugno hospital in Naples.

Paramedics on their way to the emergency room of the Cotugno hospital in Naples. Source: AAP

More than 99 per cent of people who died from coronavirus in Italy had pre-existing illnesses, according to the country's national health authority.

Researchers examined the medical records of about 18 per cent of Italy's nearly 3000 coronavirus fatalities and found just three patients, or 0.8 per cent of the total, had no previous pathology.

The Italian National Institute of Health study revealed nearly half of deaths - 48.5 per cent - had three or more health conditions before they were diagnosed with COVID-19.

The two Chinese tourists who were the first cases of coronavirus in Italy have now recovered.
Source: AAP

The most common problems included high blood pressure (76 per cent), diabetes (35 per cent) and heart disease (33 per cent).

Dementia and liver disease were among the less common examples.

According to the research, the average age of people who have died from the virus in Italy is 79.5. 

Should people with high blood pressure be worried?

About six million people in Australia have high blood pressure and many take medication to control it.

Alister McNeish, an Associate Professor in Cardiovascular Pharmacology at the United Kingdom's University of Reading, said there is no direct evidence that medications to treat high blood pressure, such as ACE inhibitors, lead to increased mortality. 

"Age seems to be the primary risk factor for COVID-19 mortality and rates of high blood pressure in the elderly are high," he said.

76 per cent of the patients who died in Italy had high blood pressure, the study found.
Source: AAP

"Many patients with high blood pressure already have an overactive renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system which could mean an increased ACE2 expression regardless of treatment."

Mr McNeish said the best current advice is for people to continue taking their medications as directed.

Italy's population is the second-oldest in the world, after Japan's, and the country has suffered the worst outbreak outside of China. 15 per cent of Australia's population is aged 65 or above.

Published 20 March 2020 at 2:15pm
By Cassandra Bain