Polish researchers have identified a genetic variant that they believe can double the risk of an individual developing severe forms of COVID-19 or dying from the virus. They estimate that almost 10% of people in Europe and more than a quarter in South Asia carry the variant.
The finding, which results from 18 months of research on 1,500 COVID-19 patients led by the Medical University of Białystok, could, together with other factors, help in the early identification of those most at risk of coronavirus. .
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have been trying to understand why, even among people of the same age, some are asymptomatically infected while others are fighting for their lives,” a university spokesperson said. . “Thanks to [this] research, we are getting closer to understanding this phenomenon.
Of the 16 countries that have reported more than 100,000 Covid deaths, Poland has the third-highest number of deaths as a proportion of population, behind only Peru and Brazil.
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The researchers found that the gene variant is the fourth most important risk factor – after age, obesity and gender (with men at higher risk) – determining a serious or fatal outcome of the infection. to coronavirus. According to their results, this is an even more important factor than coexisting diseases.
They estimate that the genetic element could be carried by around 14% of people in Poland and around 8-9% across Europe. Significantly, the variant is even more common in South Asia, where up to 27% of the population has it.
The head of the Bialystok research group, Marcin Moniuszko, pointed out that the discrepancy between the frequency of this type of gene in populations is proof that research results from other countries should not be automatically transferred across national contexts.
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“We managed to uncover a very important risk factor,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said at a press conference today in Białystok. “A consequence of this discovery will be the creation of an appropriate genetic test, which will quickly determine whether a patient is at higher risk.”
Such tests could be produced within months, according to the National Agency for Medical Research (ABM) which, together with the Ministry of Health, funded the study.
“This is a very important step in the fight against the pandemic,” said ABM chief Radosław Sierpiński, quoted by the Polish News Agency (PAP).
Main image credit: Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr (under CC BY 2.0)
Agnieszka Wądołowska is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. She previously worked for Gazeta.pl and Tokfm.pl and contributed to Gazeta Wyborcza, Wysoki Obcasy, Format Duży, Midrasz and liberal culture