Scientists have discovered a gene that more than doubles the risk of becoming severely ill with Covid.
Researchers from the Medical University of Bialystok in Poland found that the gene is the fourth most important factor determining how seriously a person suffers from Covid, after age, weight and gender.
The gene is located on chromosome 3, one of the 23 pairs of chromosomes in humans, and is present in around 14 per cent of the Polish population, compared to 8-9 per cent in Europe as a whole and 27 per cent in India, they say.
The discovery could help doctors identify those who are most at risk from the disease and prioritise them for vaccinations.
Poland and several other countries in central and eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccinations rates than in western Europe.
Polish scientists have found a gene that they say more than doubles the risk of becoming severely ill with Covid (stock image)
The new study was led by Marcin Moniuszko, a professor at Medical University of Bialystok, and based on around 1,500 Covid patients.
Results were presented on Thursday at a press conference at the university with the participation of Minister of Health Dr Adam Niedzielski and President of Medical Research Agency, Radoslaw Sierpiński.
‘Although the results of our research are still a scientific discovery, we very much hope that on their basis, a widely available test for patients, doctors and diagnosticians will be created to identify people at greater risk of severe disease,’ Professor Moniuszko said.
‘Such a test may help to better identify people who, if infected, may be at risk of a rapid course of the disease before infection occurs.
‘Then, such people could receive special care, increased protection both preventive (additional doses of protective vaccinations) and medical (new treatments directed against SARS-CoV-2).’
The gene doesn’t seem to be a specific ‘Covid gene’ as such, but rather one associated with other health conditions too.
As 14 per cent of Polish people are estimated to have the gene, it’s hoped that the new study will ramp up vaccinations in the country.
Vaccine hesitancy is a major factor behind high coronavirus death rates in central and eastern Europe.
According to the latest data, 56.2 per cent of the Polish population are fully vaccinated, compared with 71.1 per cent in the UK and 62.7 per cent in the US.
In Poland, vaccinations rates are far lower than in Western Europe. Here, Hanna Zientara, an 83-year-old resident of Warsaw in Poland, receives her Covid booster shot
The situation has created a dilemma for Poland’s government, which has urged citizens to get vaccinated.
‘After more than a year and a half of work it was possible to identify a gene responsible for a predisposition to becoming seriously ill [with coronavirus],’ said Minister Niedzielski.
‘This means that in the future we will be able to… identify people with a predisposition to suffer seriously from Covid.’
In December, Niedzielski pointed out that of the 1,085 people under 44 who died with Covid in Poland in 2021, only 3 per cent were fully vaccinated.
‘This black statistic could be different thanks to vaccinations,’ he said at the time.
They identified the gene responsible for doubling the risk of respiratory failure from Covid, called LZTFL1.
The LZTFL1 gene is present in 60 per cent of South Asians and allows the virus to multiply in the lungs easier.
Its prevalence in people with South Asian ancestry partly explains the excess deaths seen in some minority communities in the UK.
MORE THAN 50% OF EUROPEANS WILL BE INFECTED WITH OMICRON COVID IN THE NEXT TWO MONTHS IF INFECTIONS CONTINUE AT CURRENT RATE, WHO WARNS
More than half of people in Europe are on track to contract the Omicron coronavirus variant in the next two months if infections continue at current rates, the World Health Organisation has said.
Speaking at a press conference on January 11, regional director Hans Kluge warned that the Omicron variant represented a ‘new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across’ the European region.
The WHO’s European region comprises 53 countries and territories including several in Central Asia, and Kluge noted that 50 of them had confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.
According to the WHO, 26 of those countries reported that over one percent of their populations were ‘catching Covid-19 each week,’ as of January 10, and that the region had seen over seven million new virus cases reported in the first week of 2022 alone.
Omicron leads to less serious complications than previous variants, but since it is highly infectious, it is pushing hospital numbers up quickly.