Carriers of two genetic mutations at greater risk for illness and death from COVID-19

Tel Aviv University researchers suggest that carriers of the genetic mutations PiZ and PiS are at high risk for severe illness and even death from COVID-19. These mutations lead to deficiency in the alpha1-antitrypsin protein, which protects lung tissues from damage in case of severe infections. Other studies have already associated deficiency in this protein with inflammatory damage to lung function in other diseases.

The study was led by Prof. David Gurwitz, Prof. Noam Shomron, and MSc candidate Guy Shapira of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, and published in The FASEB Journal on September 22, 2020.

The researchers analyzed data from 67 countries on all continents. Comparisons revealed a highly significant positive correlation between the prevalence of the two mutations in the population and COVID-19 mortality rates (adjusted to size of the population) in many countries, such as the USA, the UK, Belgium, Spain, Italy, and more.

Consequently, the researchers suggest that these mutations may be additional risk factors for severe COVID-19. They now propose that their findings should be corroborated by clinical trials, and if validated should lead to population-wide screening for identifying carriers of the PiS and/or PiZ mutations. Such individuals should then be advised to take extra measures of social distancing and later be prioritized for vaccination once vaccines are available. According to the researchers, these steps can be effective in reducing COVID-19 morbidity and fatality rates.

[Editor’s note: Please see the paper, referenced below, for precise figures of mutation and mortality rates.]

Prof. Gurwitz, Prof. Shomron, and Shapira conclude, “Our data analysis reveals a strong correlation between these mutations and severe illness and death from COVID-19. We call upon the research community to test our hypothesis against clinical data, and also call upon decision makers in every country to conduct population-wide screening for identifying mutation carriers and prioritize them for vaccination once COVID-19 vaccines have been approved. In the meantime, carriers should be notified that they may belong to a high-risk group and advised to maintain strict social isolation.”

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Materials provided by American Friends of Tel Aviv University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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