LGBTQ people have a higher risk of coronavirus

A doctor with a mask holding a vial labeled "coronavirus"
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A coalition of organizations is sounding an alarm about how LGBTQ people are more likely to catch and suffer from coronavirus than the rest of the population.

The National LGBT Cancer Network organized an open letter signed by over 100 organizations that lists reasons LGBTQ people should be taking extra precautions to avoid the disease, which was just labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Related: HIV medication was just used to cure coronavirus

The letter asks public health organizations and agencies, health professionals, and the media to understand that LGBTQ people are “particularly vulnerable” to coronavirus, listing three main reasons.

First, LGBTQ people are 50% more likely to smoke than cisgender, heterosexual people, according to the letter. Coronavirus is a respiratory disease and smoking – and likely using e-cigarettes as well – reduces immunity to respiratory diseases and makes recovery from those diseases take longer.

Second, LGBTQ people have higher rates of both cancer and HIV, both of which can compromise a person’s immune system. While doctors don’t believe that people living with HIV whose viral loads are undetectable are at significantly greater risk of getting coronavirus, many LGBTQ people either don’t know they have contracted HIV or are not managing it well.

Last, LGBTQ people face barriers when it comes to access to health care. Discriminatory attitudes are common enough among medical professionals that some LGBTQ people avoid or delay health care, and job discrimination and LGBTQ homelessness mean that many LGBTQ people don’t have access to health care.

The organizations note that the estimated three million LGBTQ elders in the U.S. are particularly at risk. Coronavirus has a mortality rate of eight to 15 percent for people over the age of 70, according to the World Health Organization, and elder LGBTQ people may be more reticent to seek medical care when needed.

The letter concludes with a list of measures people in positions of power can take to help address LGBTQ people’s risks when it comes to coronavirus, including targeted public health campaigns, training health care workers to provide equal care to LGBTQ people, and working with LGBTQ health organizations.

“As LGBTQ+ community and health leadership, the undersigned organizations offer to stand shoulder to shoulder with the mainstream health leadership to make sure we learn from history and do not allow any population to be disproportionately impacted or further stigmatized by a virus,” the letter concludes.

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