People who have never had Covid may hold the genetic key to a cure
Around one in 10 people in England are still believed to be Covid-free – and scientists now believe this minority could pave the way for a cure for the deadly virus.
Even though the highly transmissible variant of Omicron that swept the world towards the end of 2021 continues to be the dominant strain, there are people who have not tested positive throughout the pandemic.
Scientists now looking to study this small demographic group to see if their genes could help future treatment – or even prevent Covid infection altogether.
András Spaan, a clinical microbiologist at Rockefeller University in New York, is leading the hunt for what could be causing this resistance to Covid, with particular emphasis on their genetic material.
He said the Washington Post: “What we are looking for are potentially very rare genetic variants with a very large impact on the individual.”
He leads the international study, which already has 700 participants. Scientists are also looking at more than 5,000 additional people who think they might be immune to the virus.
Health workers, who went without face masks at the height of the pandemic and still managed to test negative for Covid on a weekly basis, are among those being screened for signs of immunity.
So how many people still haven’t caught the Covid?
Journalist John Burn-Murdoch published a graph for the Financial Times last week explaining that – based on data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) – nine out of 10 people in England have tested positive for Covid at a given time of the pandemic.
Positive cases are currently declining, but the number of infections has fluctuated throughout the pandemic, depending on the variant that is spreading and the status of vaccination of the general population.
Yet, even though some people have said they have caught Covid on several occasions, there is still a category that thinks they have not caught the virus at all.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that six in 10 people across the United States have had Covid at some point, at least once.
According to data website Staista.com, there had been almost 514 million cases of Covid as of May 1, 2022 – which certainly makes people who avoided it an anomaly.
What could make some people immune to Covid?
Experts believe some people may have fewer receptors in their nose, throat and lungs, meaning the virus has a harder time binding to their bodies.
Alternatively, this minority could have been previously exposed to a similar virus that gave their immune systems a head start against Covid.
They may also be born with a particular immune system already equipped to fight off the virus, making it a genetic problem.
If scientists are able to find out why this small class of people have not been infected, both public health advice and Covid drugs could be vastly improved. It could even help protect the general population from future strains of the virus, which are expected.
However, individual use of masks, vaccines and social distancing could affect the study’s ability to find those who are immune.
Frequent testers, those who wear masks indoors and avoid gatherings or high-risk travel have obviously lowered their risk of catching the virus by their decisions. This means that it had not so much to do with their genetics or their immune system, but their approach to the pandemic.
Bob Wachter, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, also told The Washington Post, “It has to be a combination of caution, circumstance, and luck.”