COVID risk in young men may be higher than estimated

Young man looking directly into camera

Young men may be at higher risk of COVID infection than previously thought, according to a new study.

Until recently, it has been thought older people are at the highest risk of infection from SARS-CoV-2, while children and adolescents have the lowest incidence.

But research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found young men, aged 20 to 49, may also be a high-risk group.

The findings from the Canadian population-based cohort study suggest young men may be an under-recognised group at high risk of infection because they have generally had lower testing rates, compared with other population groups.

When the researchers adjusted for this, they found young males (20-29 years) who did get tested had a higher rate of positive tests – about 2.5 times that of the overall population.

Silent drivers of infection

In a press release, the researchers say: “After adjustment for testing frequency, infection rates were lowest in children and in adults aged 70 years or older and markedly higher in adolescents and in males aged 20 to 49 years compared with the overall population.”

“We know that the elderly and immunocompromised are high-risk groups for COVID-19, but the data suggest young men should be added as a high-risk group, too,” the press release says.

The researchers say their findings highlight the risk that younger people, particularly males, could be ‘silent drivers’ of infection in older adults.

Study limitations

The study was observational so can only show a relationship between things, not cause and effect. The findings also need to be replicated in other regions, as data was taken from just one Canadian province. The researchers say more investigation is needed to test their methodology and validate their findings.

How to keep protecting yourself from COVID infection

There are a number of ways to reduce your risk of COVID infection, most of which we are all pretty familiar with now:

  • Get vaccinated COVID vaccines can help protect you from getting sick if you get COVID-19. No vaccine provides full protection for all people, but it will reduce the risk of infection or help reduce how sick you get if you are infected, meaning you’ll be less likely to be able to pass it on to others.
  • Practise basic hygiene Regularly wash your hands with soap and water and dry them thoroughly, particularly before eating and after touching surfaces others also use. Use hand sanitiser when water and soap are not available.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow You can also cough or sneeze into a tissue but make sure to safely dispose of it after use.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, if your hands aren’t clean.
  • Clean surfaces regularly, including frequently touched areas such as door handles and phones.
  • Wear a mask or face covering when you’re out and about, especially in closed spaces such as shops or public transport.
  • Keep a record of where you have been so you can be notified if you have visited a place an infected person has been.
  • Physically distance Keep 2 metres apart from others in public places such as supermarkets and shops. Keep 1 metre apart from others in controlled environments such as workplaces and schools.
  • Follow the rules If you are in a region where restrictions are in place to limit the spread of COVID, follow those rules to keep yourself, your family, the wider community and, ultimately, the economy safe.
  • Keep up your fitness and maintain a healthy weight range. Multiple studies have shown physical inactivity to be associated with a higher risk for severe symptoms if you’re infected with SARS-CoV2. There is also mounting evidence overweight and obesity can increase your risk of severe COVID.
First published: Aug 2021

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