Down syndrome puts adults at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, a new study suggests.
Patients with Down syndrome were three times more likely to contract the virus than those with other intellectual and developmental disabilities, in this study of more than 500 NYC patients with disabilities.
Researchers theorize this because people with Down syndrome are more likely to have other conditions that make them vulnerable to coronavirus.
In addition, elderly patients, patients with chronic kidney disease, and patients who lived in crowded environments were also at higher risk of infection.
The team, from Syracuse University, says the findings suggest that patients with intellectual disabilities — especially those with Down syndrome — should be a priority in COVID vaccination efforts.
People with intellectual disabilities are more vulnerable to COVID, a new study shows
Patients with Down syndrome are three times more likely to get COVID than other patients with intellectual disabilities, while patients with chronic kidney disease are five times more likely
Intellectual and developmental disabilities are known as risk factors for COVID.
Previous studies have shown that people with these disabilities tend to have more severe COVID outcomes — meaning they’re more likely to go to the hospital or die if they get sick.
This trend is especially true for patients with disabilities who live in nursing homes and other similar residential environments – where COVID outbreaks are common and fatal.
The CDC specifically mentions Down syndrome as a risk factor, noting that having this condition “may make you more likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19.”
Down syndrome is a condition caused when a person has an extra copy of genetic material, causing mental and physical changes in their development.
Patients with Down syndrome and other disabilities are also likely to have other medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID, such as respiratory and endocrine diseases.
But a new study shows that patients with Down syndrome are more likely to also become infected with COVID – even compared to other patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In this study, researchers tracked the COVID results for 543 people with disabilities who received support from a New York City-based nonprofit.
The nonprofit has supported more than 8,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the pandemic. This support includes assistance with daily life activities and access to nursing care.
Of the 543 people included in the study, 91 were diagnosed with COVID between March and October 2020. Of those patients, 35 died from the disease.
These patients with disabilities generally had higher COVID cases and death rates than NYC during that time period.
The death rate, due to the proportion of COVID patients who died, was four times higher — 39 percent of COVID patients with disabilities died, compared to 10 percent of New Yorkers with COVID overall.
However, the number of cases in this study may be a low estimate.
The disabled patients were only tested for COVID when they showed symptoms, and contact tracing was limited. More patients may be infected with COVID with mild symptoms or no symptoms.
Patients with disabilities had a death rate from COVID cases four times higher than NYC overall
The researchers found that COVID risk factors for patients with disabilities were similar to known risk factors for the general population.
For example, elderly patients were more likely to be diagnosed with COVID. Patients who lived in busier environments — similar to nursing homes — were also more likely to get sick.
Patients with chronic kidney disease had the highest risk of COVID infection – at a rate five times higher than the overall infection rate. This disease is known as a risk factor for COVID-19.
Patients with Down syndrome also had a high risk of COVID infection. These patients represented 10 percent of the total study group – but made up 22 percent of the patients who became ill.
Patients with Down syndrome were three times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID than other patients with disabilities — and three times more likely to die from the disease.
This finding is especially noteworthy because Down syndrome was previously unknown as a risk factor for COVID infection.
Patients with heart disease were also more likely to be diagnosed with COVID. And they were much more likely to die from the disease — at a rate 17 times that of other disabled people.
Heart disease, such as chronic kidney disease, can be more common and severe in patients with disabilities.
The researchers found no increased risk of COVID infection for black, Hispanic and other patients from racial/ethnic minority backgrounds, although these communities known to be at higher risk in the US in general.
The findings of this study are limited because the Syracuse researchers looked at a small number of patients — fewer than 100 were infected with COVID. More research is needed in this area.
Still, the researchers say their findings suggest that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities should be a priority for vaccination efforts and other COVID prevention strategies, such as testing.
This is especially true for people with Down syndrome and other co-morbidities of COVID.