A new study has suggested that the oronavirus increases the chances of people dying proportionally in the population, regardless of underlying health problems.
However, this increase has been most impacted by the number of people dying from pre-existing health conditions, as they were already at higher risk.
Using GP data, the researchers estimated more deaths in the UK during the first wave of the pandemic – between 5 March and 27 May last year – in nearly 10 million adults aged 40 and over.
They compared these to pre-epidemic mortality from any cause among people with different health and socio-economic profiles.
According to the data, the death rate on average increased by only 40% during the wave compared to before the pandemic.
The researchers found that the increase in mortality was largely consistent across populations, regardless of people’s health conditions and other characteristics.
Our work has shown that the risk posed by COVID-19 increases equally with age-related weakness or ill health and a wide range of respiratory and non-respiratory medical conditions.
However, the researchers do highlight that before the pandemic people with pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease or asthma had higher death rates than people without these conditions.
Therefore, increasing their likelihood of dying by 40% compared to healthy individuals had a more complete effect.
Professor Sir David Spiegelter, Chair of the Winton Center for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, said: “It is good to confirm that the risks from Covid have been proportional to the individual risks we all face in life – it serves us to If there are any weaknesses, exaggerate them.
“As the authors state, even though we all have a similar relative risk, a higher baseline leads to a weaker start and therefore a higher absolute risk of dying.
“For reasons that are not entirely clear, this virus chooses the weak and vulnerable. It’s a bully.”
However, some exceptions were found in the study.
The mortality rate of people with dementia and learning difficulties was disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
The mortality rate in both groups was nearly three times that of people without the condition before the pandemic.
However, this was about five times the death rate compared to people without the condition during the first wave of the pandemic.
Looking at ethnicity, the researchers found that black people had a 20% lower death rate than white people before the pandemic, but increased by 50% during the wave.
Those living in London also had a lower death rate before the pandemic than those living outside London, but this increased significantly during the first wave.
Dr Helen Strongman from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), who co-led the research, said: “Our work has shown that the danger posed by Covid-19 is weakness or ill health due to aging. Grows equally with and a wide range of respiratory and non-respiratory medical conditions.
“This compares to the flu, which is also more dangerous in the elderly but also affects young children and is more strongly associated with respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and smoking.”
She continued: “Our study shows that Sars-CoV is a predatory virus, driving increased mortality across the board, and most impacting those with existing ill health or the vulnerable.
“It emphasizes how important it is for everyone to protect themselves and the most vulnerable in society through measures such as vaccination and the wearing of face masks.
“However, more basic research is needed into why and how the virus exploits any vulnerability.”
The authors say further research is needed to clarify whether there were differences in the waves in the UK, and to acknowledge the study’s limitations.
This includes the possibility of misclassification of the date of death for a small number of individuals and misclassification of health factors through incomplete information.
The study, conducted in partnership with UCL, is published in PLOS Medicine.