People of Asian or Black ethnic origin appear to be at a higher risk of death associated with Covid-19, the respiratory disease resulting from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, according to the largest study to date.
The findings are presented on the pre-print server medRxiv and have not been peer-reviewed for final publishing. Regardless, the authors note that their findings present strong evidence on the risk factors that are associated with Covid-19 death.
Researchers from the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, working on behalf of the National Health Service England branches, analyzed patient records from 17.4 million adults living in the UK – or roughly 40 percent of the population – between February 1 and April 25.
In total, 5,683 deaths were attributed to Covid-19 and after adjusting for age and sex, it was determined that the death from the disease is “strongly associated” with being male and over 60 years old. Compared to Caucasians, people of black and Asian descent are at a higher risk of death and, contrary to prior speculation, this is “only partially attributable to pre-existing clinical risk factors or deprivation.”
Higher rates of death may be due to the increased prevalence of those with diabetes or heart disease in these communities, two health factors that have been linked to more severe cases. People from deprived social backgrounds, such as those who may not have access to adequate healthcare or suffer from other socioeconomic burdens, were also shown to have a higher risk of death connected with Covid-19.
The conclusions also confirm previous findings that found men face a higher risk of death from Covid-19 as well as people of older ages and those with severe asthma. The researchers add that their study is the strongest on Covid-19 risk factors conducted by any country to date.
“We need highly accurate data on which patients are most at risk in order to manage the pandemic and improve patient care. The answers provided by this OpenSAFELY analysis are of crucial importance to countries around the world. For example, it is very concerning to see that the higher risks faced by people from BME [Black and Minority Ethnic] backgrounds are not attributable to identifiable underlying health conditions,” said study author and NHS doctor Liam Smeeth in a statement released by the University of Oxford. OpenSAFELY is an analytics platform that ensured individuals’ information remained secure throughout the study.
It is important to note several limitations with the study, namely that the data analyzed relies on hospitals completing information accurately. It’s possible that people could have died from Covid-19 but were either untested or misdiagnosed, which means that the entire rate of death may not have been accurately captured. Furthermore, the study focused solely on in-hospital deaths, which focus both on an “individual’s risk of infection and their risk of dying once infected.”
The researchers note that further work must be done in order to understand why people of black and Asian descent are at a higher risk of death associated with Covid-19.
“During a global health emergency, we need answers quickly and accurately. That means we need very large, very current datasets. The UK has phenomenal coverage and quality of data,” said Dr Ben Goldacre, director of the DataLab in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, an NHS doctor, and co-lead on the study.
Further analyses using the OpenSAFELY platform are currently underway and may be used to evaluate and model the spread of Covid-19 in an effort to inform local health service needs and safe lockdown easing measures.