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By Adriana Roca-Fernandez, Andrea Dennis, Rowan Nicolls, John McGonigle, Matthew Kelly, Rajarshi Banerjee

Posted 05 Jun 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.04.20122457

Background A high proportion of COVID-19 patients develop acute liver dysfunction. Early research has suggested that pre-existing fatty liver disease may be a significant risk factor for hospitalisation. Liver fat, in particular, is a modifiable parameter and can be a target for public health policy and individual patient plans. In this study we aimed to assess pre-existing liver disease as a risk factor for developing symptomatic COVID-19. Methods From 502,506 participants from the UK Biobank, 42,146 underwent MRI (aged 45-82), and had measures of liver fat, liver fibroinflammatory disease and liver iron. Patients were censored on May 28th to determine how many had tested for COVID-19 with symptomatic disease. UK testing was restricted to those with symptoms in hospital. COVID-19 symptoms included fever, dry cough, sore throat, diarrhoea and fatigue. Univariate analysis was performed on liver phenotypic biomarkers to determine if these variables increased risk of symptomatic COVID-19, and compared to previously described risk factors associated with severe COVID-19, including to age, ethnicity, gender and obesity, Findings Increased liver fat was associated with a higher risk for symptomatic confirmed COVID-19 in this population in univariate analysis(OR:1.85, p=0.03). In obese participants, only those with concomitant fatty liver([&ge;]10%) were at increased risk(OR:2.96, p=0.02), with those having normal liver fat (<5%) showing no increased risk(OR:0.36, p=0.09). Conclusions UK Biobank data demonstrated an association between pre-existing liver disease and obesity with severe COVID-19, with higher proportions of liver fat in obese individuals a likely risk factor for symptomatic disease and severity. Public policy measures to protect patients with liver disease who may have almost double the risk of the general population should be considered, especially as dietary and pharmacological strategies to reduce body weight and liver fat already exist. Funding University of Oxford, Innovate UK, UK Biobank. Authors are employees of Perspectum Ltd.

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