Study ties blood type to COVID-19 risk; O may help, A hurt

A genetic analysis of COVID-19 patients suggests that the blood type could influence whether someone develops a serious illness.
Scientists who compared the genes of thousands of patients in Europe found that those with type A blood were more likely to suffer from serious diseases, while those with type O blood were less likely.
Wednesday's report in the New England Journal of Medicine showed no blood type association, but confirmed an earlier report from China about such an association.
"Most of us discounted it because it was a very rough study," said Dr. Parameswaran Hari, a blood specialist at Wisconsin Medical College, about the report from China. With the new work "now I believe it," he said. "It could be very important."
Other scientists urged caution.
Evidence of a role for the blood type is "tentative ... it's not a signal enough to be sure," said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego.
The study, which included scientists in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany, and other countries, compared approximately 2,000 patients with severe COVID-19 to several thousand other people who were healthy or had mild or no symptoms. The researchers have linked variations in six genes to the likelihood of serious diseases, including some that may play a role in how susceptible people are to the virus. They also tied blood groups to a possible risk.
Most genetic studies like this are much larger, so it would be important to see if other scientists can examine other patient groups to see if they find the same compounds, Topol said.
Many researchers have looked for clues as to why some people infected with the coronavirus become very ill and others less so. Older or male seems to increase the risk, and scientists have viewed genes as another possible “host factor” that affects the severity of the disease.
There are four main blood types - A, B, AB and O - and "they are determined by proteins on the surface of your red blood cells," said Dr. Mary Horowitz, scientific director at the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.
Type O people can recognize certain proteins better than foreign, and that can include proteins on virus surfaces, Hari said.
During the SARS outbreak, caused by a genetic cousin of the coronavirus that caused the current pandemic, "it was found that people with O blood types were less likely to develop a serious illness," he said.
The blood type has also been linked to susceptibility to several other infectious diseases, including cholera, recurrent E. coli urinary tract infections, and a bug called H. pylori, which can cause ulcers and stomach cancer, said Dr. David Valle, director of the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.
Conclusion: “It is a provocative study. I think it's worth publishing and getting out there, ”said Valle.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
This story was first published on June 17. It was updated on June 18 to correct the first name of a blood specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He is Dr. Parameswaran Hari, not Parameswar.

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