Social isolation linked to more severe COVID-19 outbreaks

Nursing homes experienced the highest COVID-19 infection rate in people over age 80.

Isolation linked to severe outbreaks

Is social connectedness a risk factor for the spreading of COVID-19 among older adults?

Italy was one of the first European countries affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 and a new study from that area has revealed an interesting paradox.

Regions of Italy with higher family fragmentation and a high number of residential nursing homes experienced the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in people aged over 80, according to the study.

Italy has been one of the countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers have speculated that this is due to Italy’s age demographics as well as the connectedness of the older and younger generations and high rate of intergenerational contact.

If true, this would suggest that regions with larger households would have more severe COVID-19 outbreaks in older adults.

In the study, researchers used publicly available data published by each Italian administrative region as well as daily situation reports on COVID-19 published by the Italian Ministry of Health spanning 28 February through 31 March 2020.

Across Italian regions, the COVID-19 incidence rate ranged from 0.27 per cent to 4.09 per cent of the population being affected.

The mean number of household members ranged from 2.02 to 2.58; the percentage of one member households ranged from 28.5 to 40.9; and the percentage of COVID-19 cases that occurred in people aged over 80 ranged from 4.3 to 23.6.

A model that reflected the percentage of the population aged over 80, days since 50 cases were registered, percentage of nursing home beds in the total population, and the mean number of household members was best able to predict the COVID-19 incidence among older people in each region.

A lower mean number of household members and higher number of nursing home beds was associated with more COVID-19 cases in older adults.

The pandemic was more severe in regions with higher family fragmentation and increased availability of residential health facilities.

Professor Giuseppe Liotta, of the University of Rome, explained that the study was limited by the fact that age-specific infection rates were not available and the number of COVID-19 tests varied enormously by regions. 

“Variables associated with social isolation are risk factors for the increase in the proportion of cases in Italian patients aged over 80 years among the total number of cases,” Prof. Liotta explained.

He also noted that the “nursing home bed rate was one of the determinants of SARS-CoV-2 infection rates among the individuals aged over 80 in Italy”.

Do you think social relationships are a protective factor against dying from COVID-19?

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