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expert reaction to a Genomewide Association Study (GWAS) that reports the potential involvement of the ABO blood-group system in susceptibility to COVID-19

A study, published* in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), has looked at a potential link between the ABO blood-group and susceptibility to COVID-19.


Dr Sakthivel Vaiyapuri, Associate Professor in Cardiovascular & Venom Pharmacology, University of Reading, said:

“This is a high quality study on GWAS in relation to COVID-19. While a GWAS study is able to identify specific genes associated with COVID-19 in the wider population, it doesn’t link with the mechanistic details behind the disease progression or protection. This study doesn’t draw any strong conclusions about how different blood types may make someone susceptible or protective for COVID-19. They are only suggesting that they have identified genes in ABO blood group region and suggest that these might relate to someone’s susceptibility or protective nature based on their blood types.

“It is not entirely clear from this study about how this gene might link to the disease pathology. However, we already know that there are several factors such as age, sex, and underlying health conditions – like previous disease history that will determine the disease progression and severity.

“People have seen that O blood group people are likely to be more protected against Sars-CoV previously compared to people with A blood type. This was suggested to occur due to the presence of anti-A and anti-B antibodies in people with O blood group. These antibodies are produced naturally in our body to provide protection against wrong blood group transfusions.

“This study does not provide strong evidence that blood group type can lead to more severe COVID-19 because we still don’t have robust mechanistic details to confirm how the blood type may be linked with COVID-19 disease pathology. Moreover, no one has so far reported that O blood group people are 100% protective against COVID-19 and A blood group people are 100% susceptible. Only a small percentage of protection/susceptibility clearly demonstrates that there are several other factors associated with this disease, and therefore further research is required to establish this link.

“People with A blood group should not panic about these results, and at the same time O blood group people should not be relaxed because they may not get this disease. Everyone should follow the guidelines provided by the health authorities and be extremely cautious to protect themselves and others around them.

“Until we get more robust mechanistic results from further studies, we should avoid the panic among the general public about the results of this type of new papers.”



*Genomewide Association Study of Severe Covid-19 with Respiratory Failure” by David Ellinghaus et al. was published in NEJM on Wednesday 17 June.

DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2020283


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