The differences in COVID-19 infection risk between ethnic minority healthcare workers and their white colleagues is likely due to home and work factors rather than biology, according to the largest and most detailed study on the subject.
When other risk factors are taken into account, there is no significant difference in the likelihood of COVID-19 infection between ethnic minority and white healthcare workers, find the results published on MedRxiv as a pre-print.
Researchers analysed data from 10,772 healthcare workers who worked during the pandemic to identify demographic and household factors that contributed to infection risk.
Previous research has shown that healthcare workers from ethnic minority groups are at a higher risk of COVID-19 infection compared with their white colleagues. This new study supports those findings but suggests that demographic and lifestyle factors - including job role, age and religious belief - accounted for the difference in risk.
Results from the UK-REACH study, co-funded by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation, showed that healthcare workers' risk of catching coronavirus increased in correlation with the level of exposure to COVID-19 patients. Other risk factors included a lack of PPE access and sharing living or working environments with other key workers.
Geographical differences were also seen, with healthcare workers in Scotland and South West England at lower risk of infection compared with those in the West Midlands. Intensive care unit staff were also at lower risk than those in other hospital settings.
UK-REACH was led by researchers from the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), University of Leicester, University College London and Nottingham University.
UK-REACH Chief Investigator and Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at the NIHR Leicester BRC, Dr Manish Pareek, said: “Our study shows the importance of occupational risk and some home life factors. For example, it shows a strong association between the number of patients with COVID-19 attended by a healthcare worker and the healthcare worker’s risk of infection. This is not in all situations: where healthcare workers reported lack of access to appropriate PPE at all times their risk of infection was higher than those who did not report access issues.
"In terms of roles, ambulance workers were at twice the risk of infection compared to those not working in this setting. By contrast, those working in ICU settings, where long sleeve gowns and respirator facemasks are recommended at all times, were at lower risk that those who did not work in this setting. This supports the idea that upgrading PPE standards for all healthcare workers attending COVID-19 patients, regardless of location or type of procedure being done, may have a beneficial impact on reducing infection rates among staff.”