- New test calculates chance of a person having severe covid using saliva sample
- First-of-its-kind test combines information on genes linked to virus severity
- To develop the £130 test, scientists in Australia compared thousands of patients
Would you like to know if anyone can tell you how likely you are to have COVID-19 in your hospital?
This is the tantalizing information being provided by a new genetic test that uses a saliva sample to calculate a person’s odds of severe Covid.
The test, the first of its kind, combines information on genes associated with virus severity with details of a person’s age, gender, weight and general health to estimate their ‘personal risk of serious illness’.
A new genetic test uses a sample of saliva to calculate a person’s chances of severe Covid
To develop the £130 test, scientists in Australia compared 2,200 Covid patients whose symptoms were severe enough for them to be hospitalized, with another 5,400 who had tested positive for the virus but only mild or There were no symptoms.
They looked at how likely volunteers were to have 100 or more genes linked to the severity of Covid in other studies conducted around the world.
While it is not known exactly how our genes affect our risk, one, identified by a team at the University of Edinburgh, is thought to affect the body’s ability to fight Covid by ‘chewing’ the virus’ genetic material. Is.
Another gene observed by the same researchers may affect how well protective proteins called interferons work.
Close up picture of a young man having a PCR test at a doctor’s office during the coronavirus pandemic
The Australian team zeroed in on seven genes with strong links to severe Covid and combined it with personal information and descriptions of existing health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory problems, were able to predict with 73 percent accuracy who had According to a report published in June in the journal Epidemiology and Infection, the risk of severe covid.
‘We were able to isolate the risk factors, then use them to work out who would be at higher risk and who would be at lower risk,’ says Dr Gillian Diet, a senior biostatistician at the company Genetic Technologies Testing.
The test simply involves spitting into a tube and sending a saliva sample for genetic analysis.
The genetic data is then combined with personal and medical information that you enter online to estimate how likely you are to end up in hospital if you catch Covid – and you are the same age. How does it compare with other people.
For example, you may be told that you have a 12.7 percent ‘likely to be hospitalized’ and this is more than three out of four adults your age.
Some of the results are shocking. For example, poor health, obesity and genetics can mean that a man in his 50s is three times as likely to develop severe Covid as a woman in her 30s but normal weight. , free of underlying health conditions and with ‘good’ genes. .
However, some experts have questioned how much additional value genetic data gives to the greater amount of information about a person’s general health, age and gender than what is already at hand.
Emeritus Professor Kevin McConway says, “It is not clear how much additional predictive power it takes to include genetic information on top of information about people’s age, gender and whether or not they have certain clinical conditions.” connects.” Applied Statistics at the Open University.
He also points out that the test was developed using data from before the delta version of Covid took effect.
This means it is unclear how relevant the predictions are to people who catch the virus today.
In addition, the results are based on a person’s risk if they have not been vaccinated. Vaccination reduces the chance of hospitalization by 96 percent.
Poor health, obesity and genetics can mean that a man in his 50s is three times as likely to develop severe Covid as a woman in her 30s but is of normal weight. free of health conditions and with ‘good’ genes
The company says the results may persuade some of those who are hesitant to get vaccinated.
And someone who has been vaccinated but is at ‘high risk’ may decide to take precautions, such as avoiding crowded places.
While nationally around 80 per cent of people 12 years of age and older have received two doses of the vaccine in the UK, the rate is as low as 50 per cent in parts of London.
The theory is that finding out that you are at high risk of severe covid may provide an incentive to get immunized.
But Dr Simon Clark, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, warns that the test could also have the opposite effect, with low-risk results that some people are even more reluctant to jab without vaccinations.
He says being told you are at high risk ‘may make you more careful in terms of social distancing, the jury is still out on the accuracy of such tests’.
The test is now available via mail order in the US, and the company is ‘looking to make it available in the UK in the coming months’.