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People at Higher Risk for Communicable Disease

An older adult hugging a child
There are certain populations of people who are generally considered at higher risk, or “high risk,” of becoming severely ill from a wide variety of communicable diseases.

Who is at higher risk?

  • Older adults who are 65 years of age or older.
  • Infants under 2 years of age.
  • Those experiencing health and social inequities – including people identifying with certain racial and ethnic minority groups and people with disabilities.
  • People with medical conditions:
    • Cancer
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Chronic lung diseases, including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate-to-severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary hypertension
    • Dementia or other neurological conditions
    • Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2)
    • Down syndrome
    • Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies, or hypertension)
    • HIV infection
    • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
    • Liver disease
    • Overweight and obesity
    • Pregnancy
    • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
    • Smoking, current or former
    • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant
    • Stroke or cerebrovascular disease
    • Substance use disorders

What does it mean to get "severely ill?"

Someone who gets severely ill may need hospitalization or a ventilator to help them breathe. They may even die.

Actions you can take

If you, or someone you are close to, are at higher risk for getting severely ill from a communicable disease, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and loved ones.

  • Get vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases, as long as it’s recommended by a doctor.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds each.
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands (especially mouth, nose, and eyes).
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces regularly (like door knobs, countertops, and light switches).
  • Contact a doctor if you get sick and are concerned about your symptoms. Do not delay getting emergency care for your medical condition.
  • Continue your medicines and follow your current treatment plan to keep your medical condition under control.
  • Have at least a 30-day supply of prescription and non-prescription medicines, if possible, to reduce your trips to the pharmacy.
  • Know the triggers for your condition and avoid them when possible.
  • Learn about stress and coping.
  • When possible, keep preventive care and other routine health care appointments with your provider.


Last revised September 15, 2022