• Italy is one of the first European countries affected by COVID-19 pandemic
  • Over 105,000 cases and nearly 13,000 deaths reported as of March 31st
  • Variables linked to social isolation found to be the risk factors of COVID-19 cases in old people

Regions with larger households would be prone to more severe COVID-19 outbreaks, especially in older adults, according to a new study which is based on the data published by Italian administrative regions and daily situation reports published by the Italian Ministry of Health and Spanning.

Italy has been one of the most affected nations by the coronavirus pandemic. Experts have speculated that this could be due to Italy’s age demographics and the high rate of intergenerational contact.

“Age, in both local and national context, as well as the social connectedness of older and younger generations act as powerful determinants in the spread of pandemics. While there is a very clear association between the case fatality rate and age demographics, we wanted to test the hypothesis that the supposed closeness between younger and older generations in Italian families may have played a major role in the pandemic spread,” said the researchers in their paper published in PLOS ONE.

The Study:

Based on the available population data from the administrative regions of Italy, the researchers analyzed several variables to test their hypothesis including the following:

  • The proportion of infected individuals aged over 80
  • The incident rate of COVID-19
  • Available nursing home beds
  • Epidemic maturity
  • The mean household size in the region

The researchers chose to analyze the population aged over 80 years of age since they accounted for about 50% of COVID-19 deaths while representing 75% of the nursing home residents.

Their findings revealed that a lower mean number of household members and a higher number of nursing home beds were linked to more COVID-19 cases in older adults. The researchers found that the variables associated with social isolation were actually the risk factors that increased the proportion of COVID-19 cases in Italian citizens above 80.

“We expected to find a strong direct association between family size and the spread of COVID-19. Conversely, social distance should be favored in cities and regions with a high number of residential structures for long term care, usually devoted to older adults,” concluded the researchers in their paper titled 'Is social connectedness a risk factor for the spreading of COVID-19 among older adults? The Italian paradox.'

Social distancing measures are being encouraged across Italy as it emerges from lockdown Social distancing measures are being encouraged across Italy as it emerges from lockdown Photo: AFP / MARCO BERTORELLO