Coronavirus: Largest COVID-19 study finds age, gender, diabetes increase death rate

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The largest ever study of coronavirus patients has found that age, gender, preexisting illness and other factors cause a higher death rate from COVID-19, adding a significant body of evidence to scientists’ understanding of the disease.

The paper was published in Nature on Wednesday and analyzed 40 percent of all National Health Service (NHS) patients in England – over 17 million people, of which 10,926 had died from coronavirus-related deaths.

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The study reiterated conclusions from ongoing research that found a range of factors increased the changes of a patient dying from COVID-19: men, older people from more deprived backgrounds, and people with preexisting conditions especially diabetes and severe asthma all correspond to a higher death rate.

It also found that Black and South Asian people were at higher risk than White people of dying.

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While these conclusions echo earlier studies, the sheer scope of this study makes it significant for scientists who are attempting to understand COVID-19 by building up a body of research and data.

“This highlights a lot of what we already know about Covid-19, but a lot of science is about repetition. The size of the study alone is a strength, and there is a need to continue documenting disparities,” Uchechi Mitchell, a University of Illinois at Chicago public health expert who was not involved in the study told the New York Times.

Researchers from the UK were able to conduct such a large study using the records of the NHS, which is one of the largest organizations in the world. The study differed from others that focused only on hospital patients and instead calculated the death rates based on records for 40 percent of the population as a whole.

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The research team found that patients over the age of 80 had a far higher death rate than younger patients and were 20 times more likely to from coronavirus than people in their 50s.

The study also added to evidence that preexisting medical conditions lead to a higher death rate from COVID-19.

“Most comorbidities were associated with increased risk, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease including severe asthma, obesity, history of haematological malignancy or recent other cancer, kidney, liver, neurological and autoimmune conditions,” said the study.

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It also pointed to social and economic deprivation as a factor.

“A strong association between deprivation and risk was only partly attributable to co-morbidity or other risk factors,” it said.

Likewise, it found that ethnic minorities in the UK had a higher death rate than White people.

In line with most major studies, the researchers found that men were more likely to die from COVID-19 than women.

While the study’s strength is its size and scope, the authors cautioned against interpreting its results as cause-and-effect relationships and noted that their research had some limitations. These include the difficulty in identifying COVID-19 deaths, especially early on in the outbreak, and the potential impact on the death rate of health policies such as social isolating, which different groups practiced to different extents.

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