South Asian people the most likely group to die from coronavirus, experts say

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South Asian people are the most likely group to die from coronavirus (Covid-19) after being admitted to hospital across the UK, according to a new study.

Data from 30,693 people admitted to 260 hospitals found a 19% increased risk of death with coronavirus for those who were South Asian compared with white people. The data was taken from hospitals in England, Scotland and Wales from 6 February to 8 May, with patient follow-up to 22 May.

Diabetes and environmental factors

Experts behind the study said 40% of the South Asians in the group had diabetes, which was a “significant factor” in their increased risk of death. Stress is one of the environmental factors known to exacerbate diabetes.

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal, included 1,388 people of South Asian background (5% of the total group), 266 who were East Asian (1%), 1,094 who were Black (4%), 2,398 who were other ethnic minority (8%) and 25,547 who were white (83%).

Ethnic minorities were younger and more likely to have diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) but had fewer other underlying health conditions such as chronic heart disease or dementia than people who were white. No difference was seen between ethnic groups when it came to the severity of illness on admission to hospital.

People who were South Asian were 28% more likely to be admitted to critical care, while those who were Black were 36% more likely, compared with those who were white, the study found. This held true even when age, sex and place of admission were taken into account. The impact of deprivation was also analysed, although it’s not clear to what extent.

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South Asian people 19% more likely to die

The results showed that those who were South Asian were 19% more likely to die with coronavirus, while those who were Black were 5% more likely to die. Other ethnic minorities had no higher risk compared with white people.

The researchers, from the University of Edinburgh, concluded:

Ethnic minorities in hospital with Covid-19 were more likely to be admitted to critical care and receive IMV (ventilation) than whites, despite similar disease severity on admission, similar duration of symptoms, and being younger with fewer comorbidities.

South Asians are at greater risk of dying, due at least in part to a higher prevalence of pre-existing diabetes.

Dr Ewen Harrison, professor of surgery and data science at the University of Edinburgh, who led the study, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

South Asian people look very different in hospital to other groups, in particular, white people.

They’re younger, 12 years younger on average, less likely to have pre-existing conditions such as lung disease, dementia or obesity but much more likely to have diabetes.

In fact 40% of the South Asians in hospital with Covid-19 have diabetes, we think this is quite a significant contributor to their increased likelihood of death.

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