Amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), high-risk populations face the threat of developing severe symptoms. These include older adults and those with comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Now, researchers at the University of Glasgow and the Manchester Metropolitan University in the U.K. report that adults with intellectual disabilities have a higher risk of being infected with SARS-CoV2. The team found that they are also more likely to develop worse outcomes once infected.
The study, published in the pre-print journal medRxiv*, aims to compare COVID-19 infection, severe infection, death, case-fatality, and excess deaths among adults with intellectual disabilities and those without.
The U.K. is one of the most affected countries due to the coronavirus pandemic. To date, over 3.99 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines intellectual abilities as impairments in the social, adaptive, and intellectual functioning of a person. There is a global concern that adults with intellectual abilities may be at a heightened risk of COVID-19-related death, but the data is limited.
In the U.S., a study used private insurance claims between April and August 2020 and found that there was a higher COVID-19 case-fatality among people with intellectual disabilities compared to those without.
Another study looked at people with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in about half of New York’s residential areas. The study showed that the SARS-CoV-2 infection rate is four times higher in these individuals, while the case-fatality rate almost doubled, and the mortality rate was 7.8 times higher.
To shed light on this disparity, the team obtain a record of all adults with intellectual disabilities in Scotland and a 5 percent sample of other adults. They linked the record to COVID-19 test results, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Overall, the team gathered the data of over 17,000 adults with intellectual disabilities.
The study findings showed that compared with the general population, adults with intellectual disabilities were almost twice as likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2; 2.3 times more likely to develop severe disease; and 2.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19.
Further, the team noted that these individuals had a 25 percent higher COVID-19 case fatality.
In terms of outcomes, people with intellectual disabilities had poorer or worse outcomes among non-elderly age-groups, particularly in people between 55 and 65 years old, males, and those living in less-deprived neighborhoods.
In a nutshell, the researchers concluded that in people under 65, those with intellectual disabilities have a higher risk of being infected with COVID-19, and had worse outcomes when they contract the virus, especially in those under 65 years old.
The team recommends non-pharmaceutical interventions to reduce transmission, particularly among those who care for these individuals. Lastly, they urge countries to include them in the priority list for vaccination, regardless of age.
Our findings are important also for policy-makers, clinicians, and public health physicians to make evidence-based decisions about targeting preventive measures such as shielding, surveillance strategies, criteria for testing, and prioritization for vaccination,” the team noted in the paper.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.