In a new study from the Universities of Manchester and Oxford, researchers found that people who work shifts appear to be much more likely to end up in hospital with COVID-19 than people who have regular work patterns.
Shift work refers to a work schedule that falls outside regular work hours of 9am and 5pm, including both long-term night shifts and work schedules in which employees change or rotate their shifts.
Globally, shift work is becoming increasingly common with 10% to 40% of workers in most countries doing so.
Previous studies have found adverse health effects of shift work, such as respiratory disease, diabetes, cancer, and non-COVID-19 infectious diseases.
It is believed this could be due to sleep deprivation, poor diet and disruption of the body’s natural 24-hour (circadian) cycle.
Given that the immune system is regulated by the circadian clock, it is possible that shift work could be causing “circadian misalignment” and increasing a person’s susceptibility to COVID-19 infection.
In the study, the team used data on more than 280,000 participants aged 40 to 69 when enrolled in the UK Biobank study (2006-10).
They compared workers who never worked shifts with participants who worked irregular or permanent shifts.
Results showed that a person doing irregular shift work was more than twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19 as someone not doing shift work.
Similarly, permanent shift work appeared to make a person 2.5 times more likely to get COVID-19.
The researchers also found that, when compared with workers who engaged in no shift work, day and night-shift workers (working irregular and permanent night shifts) had a higher likelihood of having a positive COVID-19 test.
Indeed, those doing irregular night shifts were three times more likely to test positive for the virus in hospitals.
They also found shift work was linked to higher odds for having COVID-19 regardless of job sector type.
They suggest that their findings may be due to increased occupancy of workspaces over 24 hours for shift workers, reduced time for cleaning between shifts, and tiredness resulting in less awareness of health and safety measures.
Other explanations could be that shift work might alter how the immune system responds to infection.
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The study is published in the journal Thorax. One author of the study is Dr. Hannah Durrington.
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