Scientists say this key factor could explain why some develop severe COVID and others don't

"There are people walking around with vulnerabilities to COVID and they don't even know it."

Luz Pena Image
Friday, April 29, 2022
Scientists discover why some are more prone to severe COVID
Scientists at Chan Zuckerberg Biohub discover autoantibodies could be why some develop severe COVID-19 complications and others don't.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- More than two years into the pandemic, scientists discovered a key aspect that could decipher why some people are more prone to getting severely ill from COVID than others.

"There are people walking around with vulnerabilities to COVID and they don't even know it," said Dr. Joe DeRisi, President of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub.

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Researchers at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub tested close to 4,000 San Franciscans and noticed that even though many did not have pre-existing health conditions their bodies were highly vulnerable.

"We were able to replicate and show that around .3 percent of the population actually have this autoantibody," said Dr. DeRisi. "However, if you look at the severe COVID patients or critical COVID patients in the hospital it's as much as 20 percent."

They processed thousands of blood tests and discovered that a subset of the population has autoantibodies that compromise their ability to fight the virus.

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COVID cases throughout the Bay Area have been increasing for the past two weeks with the majority of the region in the red.

"What is fascinating about these discoveries is that these autoantibodies, these antibodies against yourself uniquely attack the part of the immune system that is responsible for the first line of defense against viruses which likely explains why people who have these antibodies are susceptible to severe or critical COVID," said Dr. DeRisi.

The first discovery was made by researchers on the East Coast and now they've determined that the risk increases for men over 70 years old.

Luz Pena: "If you are 70 years old and you want to find out if you are part of this group. Is there a way?"

Joe DeRisi: "Unfortunately at this time there is no clinical test here in the US that can tell if you are part of this group. However, I think these discoveries are going to rapidly lead to tests that allow people to know if they are vulnerable or not."

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A local expert says based on water samples, the omicron sub-variant BA.2 appears to doubling over two week periods in the Bay Area.

Dr. DeRisi believes commercial testing needs to catch up with our scientific findings to make tests available for the general public.

Hoping to find out in less than 24 hours if they're part of this subset of the population that is more vulnerable and don't know it.

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