A new study has revealed that Schizophrenia could be one of the highest risk factors for dying from the coronavirus infection, second only to age.

Schizophrenia is a condition that causes distortions in thinking and perception. Earlier studies have revealed that people with this condition had a higher risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2. However, it was not known whether mental disorders were also associated with a risk of dying from Covid-19.

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In the new study, researchers analysed health records from 260 outpatient clinics and four hospitals across New York City, based on data published by the New York University electronic health record. Of 26,540 patients tested (around 4,500 patients were excluded for certain reasons), 7,348 adults tested positive for Covid-19 between March 3 and May 31.

The researchers formed three cohorts of patients with a reported psychiatric disorder — schizophrenia spectrum, mood disorder, and anxiety disorder.

They then compared them with Covid-19 patients who weren’t diagnosed with any psychiatric disorder. They adjusted their findings for sex, age, race, and known risk factors for Covid-19: high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, smoking, and cancer.

Of the more than 7,000 adults who tested positive for the coronavirus during that time, 75 patients had a history of schizophrenia, 564 of mood disorder, and 360 of an anxiety disorder. Overall, 864 of the Covid-19 patients died or were discharged to a hospice within 45 days of their diagnosis.

The researchers did not find an association between anxiety or mood disorders and death from Covid-19. However, they found that people with schizophrenia were about 2.7 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than people without that mental disorder — the second-highest risk factor after age.

By comparison, patients between 45 and 54 years of age were 3.9 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than younger patients (and that risk doubled every 10 years of age after 54). This was regardless of whether they had a mental disorder. Patients with heart failure or diabetes had 1.65 times and 1.28 times higher risk of dying from Covid-19, respectively.

“It is both expected but also surprising,” said senior author Dr Donald Goff, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine.

Research has shown that people with schizophrenia have shortened life expectancies by as much as 20 years, on average; many die earlier from pneumonia and viral illnesses, he said.

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“There were such high rates, and the whole system was close to being overwhelmed and the treatments were not as effective as the treatments are now,” Goff said to Live Science.

Since then, “the absolute rates of mortality have dropped across the board, but we think this continues most likely to be true that people with schizophrenia are at higher risk,” he added.

Goff and the team are now conducting more research to understand the role of biological make-up in patients with schizophrenia that may have led to the risk of dying from the virus.

The findings of the study were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.