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New Study Finds People With Down Syndrome Have Increased Risk Of Dying From COVID-19

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found people with Down Syndrome face a higher risk of both hospitalization and dying from COVID-19 than those without the genetic disorder. Conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford, the study on Down Syndrome and COVID-19 sought to uncover if common medical side effects of Down Syndrome such as abnormal immune responses, congenital heart disease, and lung abnormalities, served as increased risk factors for COVID-19 mortality and morbidity.

After analyzing primary care data for 8.26 million adults, researchers found adults with Down Syndrome appeared to have 10 times the risk of dying from something related to COVID-19 and roughly 4 times the risk of hospitalization. According to researchers, 39.7% of adults with Down Syndrome in their study died of COVID-19 with another 25% dying of pneumonia or pneumonitis. In contrast, just 20.3% of adults without Down Syndrome were reported to have died of COVID-19 with another 14.4% having died of pneumonia or pneumonitis.

"This was after adjustment for cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases and care home residence, which our results suggest explained some but not all of the increased risk," researchers noted in their report.

What makes this study particularly significant is the fact that people with Down Syndrome are not currently considered to be a "strategically protected" group. "Down syndrome features on neither the U.K. shielding list nor the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list of groups at 'increased risk,'" researchers noted in their report. "However, it is associated with immune dysfunction, congenital heart disease, and pulmonary pathology and, given its prevalence, may be a relevant albeit unconfirmed risk factor for severe COVID-19."

According to the CDC, Down Syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition with roughly 6,000 children born with the condition in the Untied States each year. While children are typically born with 46 chromosomes, a child with Down Syndrome will have an extra copy of chromosome 21, which can lead them to possess certain physical features or developmental challenges.

While medical professionals and many within the Down Syndrome community have previously suggested people with Down Syndrome could be at an increased risk of experiencing severe illness and death as a result of COVID-19, the study published last week in the Annals of Internal Medicine is believed to be the first to confirm such concerns.

"From the beginning of the pandemic, we have been concerned about our community, especially given the complex medical histories of many of our loved ones," National Down Syndrome Society President and CEO Kandi Pickard told CNN in a statement. "This recent study confirms our concerns."

However, because the study looked only at adults with Down Syndrome, it is unclear if children with the genetic condition face the same increased risk.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.