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."

ByLuz Pena KGO logo
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 -- 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 in San Francisco.

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.

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"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.

"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.

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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.

"If you are 70 years old and you want to find out if you are part of this group. Is there a way?" asked Luz Pena, a reporter for our sister station KGO-TV.

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

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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It can give results in less than three minutes.