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Genetic variations may influence the severity of COVID-19

Genetic variations may influence the severity of COVID-19. Individual susceptibility to COVID-19 infection may be influenced by genetic variations in the immune system, according to a new study published by the American Society for Microbiology. The research suggests that these genetic differences not only make a person more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but also influence the severity of the infection. 

As of now, it is difficult to predict how the new coronavirus will affect each individual. Most people have a mild reaction, while others are hit hard with life-threatening respiratory symptoms.

The body is equipped with immune system genes called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes that play an important role in recognizing pathogens. However, the genetic makeup of the HLA system varies from person to person, influencing how well an individual’s immune system responds to any given pathogen. 

Genetic variations in the HLA system may lead to poor recognition of SARS-CoV-2, increasing a person’s susceptibility to the virus.

“In particular, understanding how variation in HLA  may affect the course of COVID-19 could help identify individuals at higher risk from the disease,” explained the study authors.

The research suggests that individual HLA, haplotype, and full genotype variability influence the individual immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. The experts noted that there were specific alleles linked to severe infection by the SARS coronavirus that appeared in 2003, and this may also be the case with SARS-CoV-2.

“This is the first study to report global distributions of HLA types and haplotypes with potential epidemiological ramifications in the setting of the current pandemic,” wrote the researchers.

“HLA typing can be fast and inexpensive. Pairing HLA typing with COVID-19 testing where feasible could improve assessment of viral severity in the population. Following the development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, individuals with high-risk HLA types could be prioritized for vaccination.”

The study is published in the Journal of Virology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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