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State medical data reveal majority of Texans who died from COVID-19 had other illnesses

KHOU 11 Investigates uncovers which illnesses were most commonly connected to the virus.

HOUSTON — Nearly 52,000 lives have been lost in Texas to COVID-19. KHOU 11 Investigates found the majority of the people who died also had other health conditions.

We requested and got medical data provided on death certificates to uncover which illnesses were most commonly connected to the virus.

Doctors have been saying it since the beginning of the pandemic

Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University for Health Security and an emergency medicine physician, also treats COVID-19 patients.

“People who have diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, lung disease are going to be more at risk for severe complications of COVID-19, and the most severe complication is death,” Dr. Adalja said.

He says when someone dies of COVID-19 it is standard practice to note a primary cause of death as well as potential contributing factors or health conditions.

“You have to look and see why they are in the hospital, what is actually driving the process that led to their death. That is how you make that determination,” Dr. Adalja said.

In Texas, when someone dies, that information is recorded and sent to the Department of State Health Services. KHOU 11 Investigates looked at the top secondary causes of COVID-19 deaths reported to the state from March of 2020 to December 2020.

Hypertension, or heart disease, topped the list with 5,952 deaths. 4,990 people with kidney disease died of COVID-19. More than 2,800 had Alzheimer’s or dementia. Also high on the list was obesity followed by other heart conditions.

  1. Hypertension: 5,952
  2. All Kidney: 4,990
  3. Alzeheimer's/Dementia: 2,847
  4. Obesity: 1,920
  5. Coronary Artery: 1,673
  6. Atrial All: 1,617
  7. Pneumonia: 1,536
  8. Diabetes: 1,303
  9. Congestive Heart: 1,225
  10. Hyperlipidemia: 993
  11. Cancer: 520

Dr. Adalja says the data is consistent with what he is seeing across the country.

“It's really important if you have those conditions that you realize you're at high risk for COVID-19 and that you take advantage of the vaccine and get fully vaccinated as soon as possible, because when you have those cofactors, your COVID-19 episode is likely to be more severe, and it clearly is what's marking people for death with COVID-19,” Dr. Adalja said.

Dr. Adalja points out cause of death data is helpful when tracking trends or patterns in certain groups. However, it is hard to determine exactly how much a particular condition listed on a death certificate actually contributed to a person’s death.