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Infectious Diseases

Updated 23 June 2020

Study finds genetic factors that make some more susceptible to Covid-19

A new study backs up an earlier observation that people with blood type A are at much higher risk of contracting coronavirus than other groups.

  • A research group found that two genes point towards an increased risk of respiratory failure due to Covid-19.
  • They also found that having blood type A gives you an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • This study can help scientists develop more effective treatments and vaccines.

Another day, and another new study shining more light on the complexities of the coronavirus.

A group of European researchers, led by the University of Kiel's professor of molecular medicine Andre Franke, published their findings regarding a link between our genes and severe respiratory failure among Covid-19 patients in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The massive genome-wide study was conducted on 1 980 patients from hospitals in Italy and Spain – the European epicentres of the disease early in the year – controlled against participants without coronavirus, or those who had no or mild Covid-19 symptoms.

It also included some participants from Norway and Germany, where the coronavirus had a much less devastating effect on the population.

READ: Leave your sunglasses at home if you're venturing out during the pandemic

Two genetic factors were found to influence the severity of Covid-19-induced respiratory failure and the need to be placed on ventilators – namely clusters found in the 3p21.31 and 9q34.2 chromosomes.

One of the risk alleles is also associated with the ABO-blood groups. Those with blood type A were 45% more likely to develop the disease, while O has some protective effect that makes O types only 65% as likely to the get it compared to other blood groups.

A similar finding was shared by US private genetic testing company 23andMe. Their initial findings in an ongoing study showed that type O blood tends to be 9 to 18% less likely to test positive for Covid-19. However, they did not find one blood type to be more susceptible than any other. Another study from China also found that blood type A seemed more susceptible to the coronavirus.

But when it comes to the HLA genes that monitor our immune system, the researchers found no discernible link with Covid-19. 

ALSO READ: One blood type seems to be more resistant against Covid-19

This European study also confirmed that their findings are backed up by the Covid-19 Host Genetics Initiative – a consortium of the world's leading genetics scientists who share information that could help better understand the coronavirus threat. 

However, former president of the American Society of Haematology Dr Roy Silverstein, told CNN these results don't mean much to the general public, where this kind of genetic variance in a population isn't that significant.

For researchers though, this could be valuable information for developing treatment and vaccines against the coronavirus.

Recently, researchers found a breakthrough Covid-19 treatment using the steroid dexamethasone that reduces mortality. And regarding the rush for a vaccine, there are currently 100 vaccines in development, with eight having reached human trials.

ALSO READ: Are people with blood type A more vulnerable to contracting the new coronavirus

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