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The geographical distribution and socioeconomic risk factors of COVID-19, tuberculosis and leprosy in Fortaleza, Brazil


Background: Fortaleza (Brazil) is high endemic for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), tuberculosis (TB) and leprosy. These three diseases share respiratory droplets through coughing or sneezing as the main mode of transmission but differ in incubation time, with COVID-19 having a short and leprosy a long incubation time. Consequently, contacts of a patient are at higher risk of infection and developing these diseases. There might be scope for combined preventive measures, but a better understanding of the geographical distribution and relevant socioeconomic risk factors of the three diseases is needed first. This study aims to describe the geographic distribution of COVID-19, TB and leprosy incidence and to identify common socioeconomic risk factors.

Methods: The total number of new cases of COVID-19, TB and leprosy, as well as socioeconomic and demographic variables, were retrieved from official registers. The geographical distribution of COVID-19, TB and leprosy rates per neighbourhood was visualised in Quantum GIS, and spatial autocorrelation was measured with Moran’s I in GeoDa. A spatial regression model was applied to understand the association between COVID-19, TB, leprosy rates, and socioeconomic factors.

Results: COVID-19 and TB showed a more homogenous distribution, whereas leprosy is located more in the south and west of Fortaleza. One neighbourhood (Pedras) in the southeast was identified as high endemic for all three diseases. Literacy was a socioeconomic risk factor for all three diseases: a high literacy rate increases the risk of COVID-19, and a low literacy rate (i.e., illiteracy) increases the risk of TB and leprosy. In addition, high income was associated with COVID-19, while low income with TB.

Conclusions: Despite the similar mode of transmission, COVID-19, TB and leprosy show a different distribution of cases in Fortaleza. In addition, associated risk factors are related to wealth in COVID-19 and to poverty in TB and leprosy. These findings may support policymakers in developing (partially combined) primary and secondary prevention considering the efficient use of resources.

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Journal Article
Taal AT
Barreto JG
Santos de Sousa GD
da Rocha AM
Lima Ferreira NN
Menezes da Silva JA
Hinders DC
van Brakel WH
Richardus JH
Blok DJ