Studies suggest that certain black and Asian minority ethnic groups experience poorer outcomes from COVID-19, but these studies have not provided insight into potential reasons for this. We hypothesised that outcomes would be poorer for those of South Asian ethnicity hospitalised from a confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, once confounding factors, health-seeking behaviours and community demographics were considered, and that this might reflect a more aggressive disease course in these patients.
Patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection requiring admission to University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) in Birmingham, UK between 10 March 2020 and 17 April 2020 were included. Standardised admission ratio (SAR) and standardised mortality ratio (SMR) were calculated using observed COVID-19 admissions/deaths and 2011 census data. Adjusted HR for mortality was estimated using Cox proportional hazard model adjusting and propensity score matching.
All patients admitted to UHB with COVID-19 during the study period were included (2217 in total). 58% were male, 69.5% were white and the majority (80.2%) had comorbidities. 18.5% were of South Asian ethnicity, and these patients were more likely to be younger and have no comorbidities, but twice the prevalence of diabetes than white patients. SAR and SMR suggested more admissions and deaths in South Asian patients than would be predicted and they were more likely to present with severe disease despite no delay in presentation since symptom onset. South Asian ethnicity was associated with an increased risk of death, both by Cox regression (HR 1.4, 95% CI 1.2 to 1.8), after adjusting for age, sex, deprivation and comorbidities, and by propensity score matching, matching for the same factors but categorising ethnicity into South Asian or not (HR 1.3, 95% CI 1.0 to 1.6).
Those of South Asian ethnicity appear at risk of worse COVID-19 outcomes. Further studies need to establish the underlying mechanistic pathways.