THURSDAY, Jan. 28, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Schizophrenia is second only to age when it comes to risk factors for dying from COVID-19, new research suggests.
People with this mental illness are known to be at greater risk for contracting COVID-19, but the new study shows they are also more likely to die from this virus.
“Old age is still the most important risk factor for dying of COVID-19, but in our study, schizophrenia surpassed even heart, lung and kidney disease,” said study author Dr. Donald Goff, director of the Institute for Psychiatric Research at NYU Langone in New York City.
“We believe that people with schizophrenia should be prioritized in terms of receiving COVID 19 vaccinations and encouraged to observe safety precautions,” said Goff, who is also a psychiatry professor at NYU Langone.
Symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thinking. The illness often first appears in the late teens to early 30s, and people with schizophrenia are known to die earlier than people without it, according to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.
In the study, people with schizophrenia were nearly three times more likely to die from COVID-19, compared to individuals without the illness, and this held even after researchers took other factors that affect risk of dying from COVID into account.
“The higher risk was expected, but the magnitude was unexpected,” Goff said.
And the increased chance of dying is not tied to risks known to travel with mental illness such as higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and smoking.
“There may be immune deficits associated with the illness that could be related to genetics,” Goff said.
Alternatively, some of the medications that treat schizophrenia cause weight gain and increased risk for diabetes and could play a role, he explained. The next step is to investigate whether these drugs affect chances of dying from COVID-19, he said.
Goff and colleagues reviewed medical records from almost 7,350 men and women treated for COVID-19 in New York last March, April and May. Of these, 14% were diagnosed with schizophrenia, mood disorders or anxiety, but only those with schizophrenia were more likely to die from COVID once infected.