Above: Christa Jones, a nurse in the Sharp Grossmont Hospital intensive care unit, takes a moment to comfort a COVID-19 patient. April 20, 2020.

By Tarryn Mento

People with underlying health conditions face a greater risk of death from COVID-19 and San Diego County health officials have pointed to hypertension as the leading factor in local fatalities. The most recent county data shows more than half of San Diegans who died from the illness suffered from hypertension, while one-third had diabetes, dementia or Alzheimer’s, or heart disease.

Federal statistics show nearly half of the nation’s adults suffer from the condition and most are not adequately addressing it.

Of the 266 San Diegans who as of Friday have died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, more than half had hypertension, according to the county. Data provided by the Health and Human Services Agency showed that was the case with at least 152 people, but most of them also had at least one other ailment — only 17 of the victims with hypertension had no other disorder.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Christian Ramers, the chief of Population Health at Family Health Centers of San Diego, said more research is necessary to determine the exact reason it increases mortality, but one indication is how the virus infiltrates human cells. Ramers said SARS-CoV-2 latches on to a receptor that is also the target of medication to treat hypertension.

“That may be one reason why hypertension is at the top of the list — there may be a relationship between people that have hypertension and the density of these receptors in certain parts of the body,” said Ramers, an assistant medical director at the nonprofit Family Health Centers.

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