Black and Asian groups are at higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection

Black and south Asian ethnic groups in England appear to be at higher risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19, as well as hospitalisation with the disease, according to new UK Biobank research.

New UK Biobank research, led by the University of Glasgow and published in BMC Medicine, has found that black and south Asian ethnic groups have a higher risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus infection that can result in COVID-19 disease. These groups were also at a higher risk of testing positive while attending hospital, suggesting they were also at greater risk of severe disease from the virus.

These risks remained largely unchanged even when accounting for pre-existing health conditions, health-related behaviours (eg smoking) and the likelihood of working for the health service. However, socioeconomic differences seemed to partly but not wholly explain ethnic differences in COVID-19.

Using UK Biobank data, which has now been updated to include COVID-19 information, the researchers found that black people in England were at highest risk of having laboratory-confirmed infection, more than three times more likely than white people. South Asian groups also had a higher risk of testing positive, with Pakistani groups having the highest risk among them.

Age, male gender and pre-existing medical conditions have already been established as predictors of adverse COVID-19 outcomes; however, the role of social factors and ethnicity is less well understood so far.

Based on these new findings, researchers now suggest that more work urgently needs done to better understand and address these elevated risks.