A British study has found that people who experienced increased stress, anxiety and depression at the start of the pandemic, were at greater risk of getting COVID-19.
The research, published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, found that greater psychological distress during the early phase of the pandemic was significantly associated with participants later reporting SARS-CoV-2 infection, a greater number of symptoms and also more severe symptoms.
Professor Kavita Vedhara in the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham, led the study, along with colleagues from King’s College London and the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
Previous research has shown that psychological factors like stress and social support are associated with increased susceptibility to viral respiratory illnesses and more severe symptoms.
During the pandemic there has been a well-documented deterioration in psychological well-being and increased social isolation. The purpose of this study was to find out whether people who experienced these difficulties during the pandemic were more at risk of contracting and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
The team of experts conducted an observational study of nearly 1,100 adults, who completed surveys during April 2020 and self-reported incidence of COVID-19 infection and symptom experience across the pandemic through to December 2020.
Regression models were used to explore these relationships, taking into account demographic and occupational factors.
The results showed that COVID-19 infection and symptoms were more common among those experiencing elevated psychological distress.
Vedhara said: “The significance of the work is in that it turns the debate regarding the mental health aspects of the pandemic on its head. Our data show that increased stress, anxiety and depression are not only consequences of living with the pandemic, but may also be factors that increase our risk of getting SARS-CoV-2 too.
“Further work is now needed to determine whether and how public health policy should change to accommodate the fact that the most distressed people in our communities appear to be at greatest risk of COVID-19 infection.”
Professor Trudie Chalder, professor of Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy from King’s College London said: “Previous work has shown a clear relationship between distress and the development of viral infections indicating a vulnerability. Our study found that distress was associated with self-reported COVID-19 infection and the next step is to investigate whether this association is found in those with confirmed infection.”
Psychological Predictors of Self-reported COVID-19 Outcomes: Results From a Prospective Cohort Study.
Kieran Ayling, Ru Jia, Carol Coupland, Trudie Chalder, Adam Massey, Elizabeth Broadbent, Kavita Vedhara.
Published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine of 2022
Previous research has shown that psychological factors, such as stress and social support, are associated with greater susceptibility to viral respiratory illnesses and more severe symptoms. During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a well-documented deterioration in psychological well-being and increased social isolation. This raises questions as to whether those experiencing psychological adversity during the pandemic are more at risk of contracting and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
To examine the relationship between psychological factors and the risk of COVID-19 self-reported infection and the symptomatic experience of SARS-CoV-2 (indicated by the number and severity of symptoms).
As part of a longitudinal prospective observational cohort study, 1,087 adults completed validated measures of psychological well-being during April 2020 and self-reported incidence of COVID-19 infection and symptom experience across the pandemic through to December 2020. Regression models were used to explore these relationships controlling for demographic and occupational factors.
Greater psychological distress during the early phase of the pandemic was significantly associated with subsequent self-reported SARS-CoV-2 infection as well as the experience of a greater number and more severe symptoms.
COVID-19 infection and symptoms may be more common among those experiencing elevated psychological distress. Further research to elucidate the mechanisms underlying these associations is needed.
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