NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Prevalence of lung condition more than double WHO figures, find students

Around 550 million people have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to two University of Manchester medical students working with senior researchers supported by the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

The figure more than doubles the previous estimate of 251 million people with the illness linked to smoking by the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Burden of Disease Study.

The University of Manchester students, Emily Hammond and Charles McDonald, made the extraordinary discovery whilst researching the global impact of aspergillosis (an infection caused by Aspergillus, a type of mould) on COPD. The findings have been published as ‘The global impact of Aspergillus infection on COPD’ in ‘BMC Pulmonary Medicine,’ the first published paper by both students.


Emily Hammond and Charles McDonald

Emily Hammond and Charles McDonald

COPD is the most widespread non-infectious disease of the lungs. It is progressive and irreversible. Advanced COPD often leads to hospitalisation and sometimes invasive aspergillosis (IA), a serious and sometimes fatal form of aspergillosis. All this highlights COPD as a significant global health concern.”

Emily Hammond

Emily continued: “From the results of our analyses we re-estimated the global prevalence of COPD at 552,300,599 people (7.39% of the global population) with 339,206,893 (8.58%) in Asia, 85,278,783 (8.52%) in the Americas, 64,298,051 (5.37%) in Africa, 59,484,329 (7.77%) in Europe and 4,032,543 (10.86%) in Oceania.”

The current Global Burden of Disease estimate for COPD deaths annually is 3,198,000 million. If untreated approximately 100% of people with IA die. Even with treatment for their condition 45% of patients with IA die. This new estimate which has identified aspergillosis as causing 500,000 to 1 million deaths annually, is a much larger problem than ever previously realised.

Dr Caroline Baxter, Acting Clinical Director of the National Aspergillosis Centre, based at Wythenshawe Hospital, part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said: “This is fantastic work by Emily and Charles. They have shown that not only is the prevalence of COPD much higher than previously estimated, but, overall COPD mortality may be higher than estimated and IA probably contributes to many deaths. Improved rapid diagnosis of IA is required in COPD hospital admissions to reduce mortality.”

We have believed COPD to be the fifth leading cause of death in the UK with costs to the NHS of more than £1 billion per year. However, this discovery could be game-changing. It highlights the need to re-evaluate these figures and can only strengthen the requirement to develop personalised approaches for better diagnosis and treatment of COPD, one of the key aims of our Manchester BRC respiratory research.

Professor Jørgen Vestbo, NIHR Manchester BRC Respiratory Theme Lead, COPD programme Co-lead and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester.

*Data was initially collected from three large studies:

Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD), Proyecto Latinoamericano de Investigacion en Obstruccion Pulmonar (PLATINO), BREATHE