Covid warning as researchers identify 28 genes that make you more vulnerable

COVID patients exhale high levels of virus the first eight days

An international consortium of scientists has revealed 28 new genes that make you more vulnerable to serious Covid infection, adding to the 23 the team had already identified.

Together, these combined discoveries help us to understand why some people get more sick from Covid, and will also inform the development of new medicines to combat the virus.

The researchers — the “COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative” — have been investigating the links between genetic factors and severe Covid since the very start of the pandemic.

The consortium is being led by the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, which is based in Helsinki.

Their latest findings combine the results of 82 individual studies undertaken by 3,699 scientists from all across the four corners of the globe.

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The advantage of such vast collaborations is the analytical power afforded by studying huge numbers of patients together.

One of the groups making up the vast collaboration is the “Bonn Study of Covid Genetics” — or BoSCO, for short — which is led by Dr Kerstin Ludwig of the Hospital University Bonn in Germany.

Ludwig explained: “With 82 studies from 35 countries and over 200,000 participants in the largest subgroup, the data pool is the biggest to date.

“Knowing about genetic risk factors helps scientists to develop successful drugs and predict risks better.”

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For the study, published in the journal Nature, Ludwig and her colleagues recruited participants whose genomes they then analysed to explore which genes might confer a greater risk of severe infection.

Ludwig added: “We also coordinated collaboration with the other university hospitals in Germany that were contributing in order to get even more patients involved in the BoSCO study.”

In other coronavirus news, a study from Northwestern University has revealed that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 breathe out as many as 1,000 copies of the virus every minute for the first eight days after symptoms start.

The researchers came to this conclusion after testing breath samples taken repeatedly from 44 infected individuals for up to 20 days after the first signs of illness.

They found that exhaled virus levels drop dramatically down to just two copies per minute — almost the limit of detection — on the eighth day of Covid.

The team also discovered that, while patients with highly symptomatic infections tended to exhale viruses at the greatest rate, those with more mild or moderate cases still exhale large amounts of virus.

According to the researchers, the findings could potentially be used to calculate how long it would take for an individual to exhale an infectious dose.

Paper author Gregory Lane explained: “If we assume the infectious dose for COVID is 300 copies, then a person who is exhaling 1,000 viral copies per minute would exhale an infectious dose in 20 seconds — highly risky in an elevator!

“Whereas a person who is exhaling two viral copies per minute would exhale an infectious dose in about two hours — probably safe in an elevator.”

A preprint of the researchers’ article, which has been accepted for inclusion in the journal eLife but has not yet been peer-reviewed, can be read on the medRxiv repository.

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