Categories: General NewsHealth

Coronavirus – Researchers Focus on Genetics After Deaths of Twins and Siblings

In the middle of the steady stream of stories regarding the deaths of COVID-19, that is significantly high in number. In the past month, however, at least two pairs of twins, and two pairs of brothers had died in Britain, with a gap of a few hours or days. The question that arises is if the deaths point towards genetic factors that increase the likelihood of some to succumb to the disease, more than others.

According to most scientists, genes can indeed play a big role in the response of people to infections. Furthermore, the receptors that the COVID-19 uses to invade human cells are likely to be influenced by a person’s genetic makeup. However, the resilience of a person to infection, their general health, and the reaction of their immune system will all have at least some degree of the genetic component.

Prof Tim Spector, head of twin research and genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, led a team that reported that the symptoms of COVID-19 seem to be 50% genetic. However, Spector has said that more research will be needed to understand the involvement of specific genes and the difference that they make to the course of the disease.

According to Spector, there is still ambiguity regarding if genes are linked to the receptors or to how the infection presents.

Last month, identical twins Katy and Emma, aged 37, were reported dead at Southampton general hospital. The sisters had underlying health problems and were living together. They had been ill for quite some time before they were infected with the virus.

Another set of twins was Eleanor Andrews and Eileen, aged 66. The sisters died earlier this month, also had underlying health conditions, and lived together.

Another case was of two brothers from Newport, Ghulam Abbas, aged 59, and Raza Abbas, aged 53. They died with a gap of hours of each other, at the Royal Gwent Hospital. Furthermore, another pair of brothers, Olume Ivowi, aged 46, and Isi Ivowi, aged 38, from Luton, died within a gap of days of each other.

According to Spector, these deaths have alerted people regarding the possible genetic factor, especially during a time when people are living together and have a shared environment.

Spector added that the outcome is that twins that live together, are likely to have similar lifestyles and habits, from diet to exercise, and also on how quickly they respond and seek medical care, and are hence not generally less healthy than the remaining population.

Twin deaths gained popularity in headlines before the COVID-19 pandemic, when twins, Julian and Adrian Riester, died on the same day in 2011, in Florida. The cousin of the twins claimed that this was a confirmation of God’s favor over them. However, Spector has seen the statistic and says that twins dying at the same time are a rare occurrence. Furthermore, he added that while the population exists in billions on this planet, only 70 is a twin and one in 200 is an identical twin.

A professor of biological psychiatry at Bristol University, Marcus Munafo, has said that there must be caution in the interpretation of the reports of twin deaths. Munafo added that twin deaths are unusual and rare, which is why they make it to the news, but a distortion of perceptions can be caused by coverage. Munafo continues that the “salience bias” which refers to the fact that people end to notice the information that stands out the most irrespective of relevancy, can be unhealthy and it would be better to be careful when coming across news and realize what we should focus on.

Saher Asad Mir

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