Scientists perplexed as to why men, minorities have higher rates of severe COVID-19 infections

LONDON – Growing evidence suggests that men and Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) populations suffer more severe COVID-19 infections with poorer outcomes. Yet, scientists to this point are unable to figure out why. A new study from researchers at Queen Mary University of London sheds some light on the mystery by revealing what doesn’t play a role.

Researchers say that the severity of COVID-19 infection among males and BAME populations is not related to other commonly blamed health factors. For example, risk of cardiovascular disease or vitamin D levels are often linked to infections. Similarly, socio-economic status or behavioral factors don’t seem to be the major factor, thus leaving scientists baffled.

In the study, published in the Journal of Public Health, researchers examined data from the United Kingdom’s Biobank. The Biobank is a longterm research study that includes health and genetic information on 500,000 people in the UK. The study uses a subset of this dataset, comprised of 4,510 Biobank participants who were tested for COVID-19, including 1,326 who tested positive.

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The researchers write that several factors are associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19. These factors include: BAME ethnicity, male sex, higher body mass index, and material deprivation. Material deprivation is determined based on unemployment, non-car ownership, non-home ownership, and household overcrowding.

COVID-19 mystery continues

As noted, the researchers say that the link between sex and BAME ethnicity is not related to other factors such as risk of cardiovascular disease, vitamin D levels, socio-economic status, or behavioral factors. These findings suggest that other factors not included in the analysis might explain the link between sex and BAME ethnicity, and severe COVID-19 infection.

“The results of this analysis suggest that factors which underlie ethnic differences in COVID-19 may not be easily captured,” says lead researcher Steffen Peterson in a media release. “In addition to assessment of the role of biological considerations such as genetics, approaches which more comprehensively assess the complex economic and sociobehavioral differences should now be a priority.”

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