Genetics place fourth in terms of risk factors for severe COVID-19: Polish study

“We managed to identify (...) a very important risk element when it comes to contracting COVID-19, that is a risk element related to the genetic structure,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said during a press conference at the Medical University in Białystok on Thursday.

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Researchers from the university identified a genetic variant that predisposes a person to the severe course of a COVID-19 infection. This genetic factor more than doubles the risk of a patient to get severe complications after contracting the virus. The university describes this discovery as groundbreaking.

Scientists also classified the main factors contributing to a severe COVID-19 infection. Their research indicates that the main factors are respectively old age, obesity, gender [case severity larger for males], and in fourth place, the genetic factor.

The study results were presented on Thursday at noon at a press conference in Białystok with the participation of the Health Minister, Adam Niedzielski and the President of the Medical Research Agency Radosław Sierpiński.

During the genetic research 1,500 people suffering from COVID-19 were examined. The study also shows that 14 percent of Poles could have this gene variant, which is about 5 percent more than people in other European countries.

“We show that genes are a very important factor that can decide how we will undergo any disease, including COVID-19, but I would like to prioritise them. We have not shown that genes are the most important, it is never so simple. However, they are significant, they are in fourth place,” the research project manager, professor Marcin Moniuszko from the Medical University in Białystok said.

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He noted that similar studies have already been carried out in the world and show that there are differences between populations, with ethnic issues also being important. “These nuances can sometimes decide how, let’s say, we go through a given disease,” the professor stressed. He also emphasised that it is not about copying solutions from other countries, because patients are genetically diverse and solutions that work in some places might not work in others.

When asked whether, based on the results of the conducted research, it can be concluded that Poles are more predisposed to the severe course of coronavirus infection, he said that the matter was complicated.

The results of the research allow for the development of an uncomplicated test that would help identify people at high risk of the course of a COVID-19 infection.

“We hope that such a test could help people who think they are super safe, see that the reality is different,” Mr Moniuszko stated. He added that a positive result of such a test could encourage a given person, for example, to vaccinate, follow epidemic rules and be mindful.

He estimates that the test could be completed within a few months, or maybe even earlier.