Shift workers treated in hospital are up to three times more likely to test positive for coronavirus than other hospitalised patients, a study has found.

Shift work was defined in the study as working outside the hours of 9am to 5pm, and it is estimated that around 25% of the UK’s workforce engages in some form of such work.

Using data from UK Biobank, the world’s largest biomedical database, researchers from the University of Manchester, Oxford, and the West Indies found that even after taking account of known coronavirus risk factors, such as age, ethnicity and deprivation, shift work increased the likelihood of testing positive for coronavirus in patients treated in hospital. The nature of the shift work or the occupation of those undertaking the shift work did not seem to affect the association.

Over half a million people were enrolled in the UK Biobank, and of these, 6,442 were tested for Covid-19 in hospital, resulting in 498 positive tests between March and August 2020. The shift workers were 2.5 to 3 times more likely to test positive with coronavirus than non-shift workers.

Dr John Blaikley, one of the lead researchers, said that although the study “shows quite a strong association between shift working and being hospitalised for Covid-19, even after controlling for existing Covid-19 risk factors”, further studies looking into the issue, especially in ethnic minority communities, were needed because the UK Biobank did not fully reflect the diversity of the UK.

He added that although it was difficult to explain the exact cause of this association, it could be speculated that possible causes might include reduced social distancing at work and how shift work may impact on the body clock of workers, with the body clock controlling immune response according to time of day.

Dr Hannah Durrington, the other lead researcher, said it was of “paramount importance” that the health and working conditions for shift workers were improved. “We do believe it should be possible to substantially mitigate these risks through good hand-washing, use of face protection, appropriate spacing and vaccination,” she added.

The study is further testament to the disparities that exist in relation to coronavirus and different kinds of work. Earlier this month, research from the Trades Union Congress found that workers on zero-hours contracts and other insecure jobs were twice as likely to have died of Covid-19 compared with those in other professions.

This content first appear on the guardian

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