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Research suggests COVID-19 outcomes are worse in colder months

Published on 23/07/20 at 11:31am

A partnership between Chinese and European researchers has argued that the severity of COVID-19 could be worse in colder weather brought by winter months, after evaluating the clinical outcomes of more than 40,000 COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began.

The researchers conducted a pre-print analysis of almost 7,000 patients with COVID-19 across the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland, Finland, Croatia and China, representing those who were either hospitalised, were admitted to an intensive care unit, or required ventilation. By leveraging local temperature and indoor humidity data, it was found that severity of clinical outcomes decreased over the transition from winter to early summer in most European countries.

This translated into a decreased mortality rate among patients as the months progressed, equivalent to around a 15% drop in rate of deaths for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature, the researchers found.

This was corroborated by an analysis of over 37,000  users of the COVID Symptom Study app in the UK. Users report to the app symptoms consistent with COVID-19 infection, which then forms a database, and these data charted a similar decrease in case severity as the months became warmer, according to researchers.   

The team also pointed out that these findings are consistent with severity of cases observed in different geographies and temperate zones around the world. While the virus has been shown to spread in hot and humid regions such as East Asia, case severity and mortality rates have generally been lower than in Europe.

The researchers also said that the findings suggested that the spread of the virus may be exacerbated by dry indoor air, and that indoor heating and air conditioning deployed during winter could help the virus spread, but more data would be needed to prove this.

“This study highlights the importance of gathering long-term data about the incidence, symptoms and progression of COVID-19 from as many people as possible. By understanding the many factors that contribute to the severity and spread of the disease, we can implement effective measures to control it over the coming months,” commebted Professor Tim Spector, Head of the Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London.

The findings could have grim implications for badly hit nations that are still struggling to contain the virus, as experts warn that the colder winter months at the end of this year will bring a whole new challenge in protecting public health.

Matt Fellows

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