Scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have multiplied the risk of death by a similar amount for most adults regardless of their underlying health status.
The research is published in PLOS Medicine. In the study, the team estimated excess mortality in the UK during Wave 1 of the COVID-19 pandemic in nearly 10 million adults aged 40+ using UK primary care data.
They then estimated and compared relative rates of all-cause death in people with and without more than 50 health and socio-demographic characteristics before the pandemic and during Wave 1.
On average, the rate of death during Wave 1 increased by a factor of just over 40% (x1.4) for the study population compared to before the pandemic.
Surprisingly, this relative increase in the rate of death was largely consistent across the population, regardless of people’s health conditions and other characteristics.
However, the researchers stress that people with pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease or asthma had a higher mortality rate than people without these conditions before the pandemic, so multiplying their mortality rate by a further 40% had a bigger absolute impact on them, compared with healthy individuals.
There were exceptions to the general pattern.
The team found that the death risks of those with dementia and learning difficulties were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Both groups had approximately 3x the rate of death compared to people without the condition before the pandemic but approximately 5x the rate of death compared to people without the condition during Wave 1.
The team says the threat posed by COVID19 increases evenly with frailty or ill health caused by aging and a wide range of respiratory and non-respiratory medical conditions.
This compares to flu, which also tends to be more dangerous in the elderly but also affects young children and is more strongly linked to respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD, and smoking.
The researchers say their results have implications for clinical practice, policy decisions, and future research.
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