Likelihood of contracting COVID-19 varies by ethnicity, analysis finds

People of Black and Asian ethnicities are at substantially greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than people of white ethnicity, according to a new meta-analysis of various studies.

Researchers at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham have found "strong evidence" that Black people are twice as likely and those in Asian ethnic groups are 1.5 times more likely to be infected with the novel coronavirus compared to white individuals.

The analysis was published Thursday in The Lancet's EClinical Medicine journal.

"Our findings suggest that the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Asian communities is mainly attributable to increased risk of infection in these communities," Dr. Manish Pareek, senior author and associate professor in infectious diseases at the University of Leicester, said in a press release.

Pareek says there could be various reasons for the disparity, including living in larger households comprised of multiple generations, having lower socioeconomic status, and being employed in frontline roles where working from home is not an option.

Researchers also found that those of Asian ethnicities with COVID-19 tend to have a higher risk of admission to an intensive therapy unit (ITU) and death. The study did not find any increased risk of ITU admissions for those of Black or white ethnicities.

However, the authors acknowledged that not all studies looking at ITU admissions had been peer-reviewed, and the risk of death was only of "borderline statistical significance."

The meta-analysis screened over 1,500 articles and pooled data from more than 18 million people who had taken part in 50 studies in the U.K. and the U.S.

All the studies included in the analysis were published between December 2019 and August 2020 in peer-reviewed journals or as pre-prints waiting for peer-review.

The report noted that all patients included in the study who had COVID-19 were defined as such by a positive nasal swab test or clinical signs and symptoms of the virus, along with radiology and laboratory tests.

Researchers say the analysis confirms that minority ethnic patients bear a higher burden of the disease than white patients. However, Dr. Daniel Pan, a lead author and specialist registrar at the University Hospitals of Leicester, says more research is needed.

"Future papers must try to adjust for the risk of infection when looking at the risk of ITU admission and death in COVID-19 patients, in order for us to accurately assess the impact of ethnicity on an individual's risk of death once they are infected," Pan said in the release.

Despite this, Dr. Shirley Sze of the University of Leicester and a lead author says the meta-analysis is of "urgent public health importance" for policymakers ahead of the possible roll out of a vaccine.

"We must work to minimize exposure to the virus in these at-risk groups by facilitating their timely access to healthcare resources and target the social and structural disparities that contribute to health inequalities," Sze said in the release.

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