Study: Mental Illness Could Raise Risk of COVID-19 Infection

A new study reveals that people with certain mental illnesses who have also received the COVID-19 vaccine might be at an elevated risk for breakthrough infections.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco surveyed the data points of nearly 264,000 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs patients; All had completed their vaccine phases and submitted to at least one COVID-19 test.

The results: More than 51% had at least one psychiatric diagnosis within the last five years, and 14.8% of that grouping contracted a breakthrough COVID-19 infection. 

“Our research suggests that increased breakthrough infections in people with psychiatric disorders cannot be entirely explained by socio-demographic factors or pre-existing conditions,” said Aoife O’Donovan, an author of the UCSF study.

O’Donovan added: “It’s possible that immunity following vaccination wanes more quickly or more strongly for people with psychiatric disorders, and/or they could have less protection to newer variants.”

Citing a report from The Hill, patients over 65 with substance abuse disorders, psychotic disorders, bipolar disorders, adjustment disorders, or anxiety are 24% higher risks for a breakthrough COVID-19 infection.

Also, patients 64 and younger are 11% more likely to contract a COVID-19 case, compared to those who don’t have a history of mental illness.

What’s more, the study findings reveal breakthrough risk for patients over 65 was 24% higher for those with substance abuse, 23% higher for those with psychotic disorders, 16% higher for bipolar disorders, 14% higher for adjustment disorders, and 12% higher for anxiety.

“Mental health is important to consider in conjunction with other risk factors,” O’Donovan said. “And some patients should be prioritized for boosters and other critical preventive efforts.”

Among the study’s findings:

  • Patient average age was 66.
  • Males comprised 91% of the study.
  • Researchers “adjusted the data for age, sex, race, ethnicity, and vaccine type, along with smoking and underlying conditions like obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea, cardiovascular, lung, kidney and liver diseases, HIV, and cancer.”

The higher incidence of breakthrough cases in adults 65 and over stems from the “decreased immunological response to vaccine that has been associated with some psychiatric disorders, which may be more substantial in older adults,” says Kristen Nishimi, another study author.  

She also assessed that older patients with psychiatric diagnoses may require more in-person healthcare, which “could increase their interactions with the healthcare system.” 

The UCSF findings come on the heels of another COVID-related study, this time reported by Reuters.

In essence, COVID-19 patients are more likely to incur rare vision-threatening blood clots for months after dealing with the infection, the study shows.

Researchers surveyed nearly 500,000 COVID-19 patients to see whether they would develop clots in the veins or arteries of the retina — the nerve tissue at the back of the eye which receives, and then sends, images to the brain. 

Over a six-month period, 65 patients ended up having a retinal vein occlusion. Also, retinal artery clots were 35% more common after contracting COVID-19, the study shows.

According to the findings, most clots occurred in patients with other conditions that increased their risk of blood vessel problems, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

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