STUDIES: People with Type A blood were significantly more likely to contract virus than those with Type O

STUDIES: People with Type A blood were significantly more likely to contract virus than those with Type O

People with Type A blood are MORE likely to catch coronavirus than those with Type O, study claims

  • Scientists studied the breakdown of coronavirus patients by their blood type  
  • People with type A blood were significantly more likely to contract virus  
  • In the general population Type O blood (34%) is more common than A (32%)
  • But in the infected this was reversed with Type O just 25% while Type A was 41% 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

People with Type A blood are significantly more likely to catch coronavirus than those with Type O, Chinese academics have found. 

The study in Wuhan – the epicentre of the disease – also found those with Type A blood are more likely to die from COVID-19.

In the general population Type O blood (34%) is more common than A (32%). However, among COVID-19 patients, people with Type O accounted for just 25%, whereas Type A made up 41%. 

People with Type O blood made up a quarter (25 per cent) of deaths in the research. Normally, Type O people make up 32 per cent of people in Wuhan. 

The controversial correlation has yet to be scrutinised by other academics in peer review and the researchers are unable to explain why infection varies by blood type.  

Researchers in China assessed 2,173 people who had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 206 people who died after contracting the virus, from three hospitals in Hubei. 

Academics compared the data of the infected Wuhan patients with 3,694 non-infected people in the same region. 

Of the 206 patients in the study who died, 85 had type A blood, equivalent to 41 per cent of all deaths. 

In the healthy Wuhan population, a city of 11 million people, 34 per cent of people are type A.

In the study cohort, 52 of the people who died were type O, making up a quarter of all deaths. Under normal conditions just 32 per cent of people are type O. 

A doctor puts on an isolation outfit before entering the negative-pressure isolation ward in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province in February
A doctor puts on an isolation outfit before entering the negative-pressure isolation ward in Jinyintan Hospital, designated for critical COVID-19 patients, in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province in February

The figures for all infections, not just deaths, are 26 per cent and 38 per cent for type O and type A, respectively.  

The researchers point out that a larger study group would make the figures more reliable. 

The coronavirus pandemic has infected almost 200,000 people and killed more than 7,800 worldwide. More than 3,000 deaths were in China, the disease’s ground-zero.   

The researchers write: ‘Blood group O was associated with a lower risk of death compared with non-O groups. To the contrary, blood group A was associated with a higher risk of death compared with non-A groups.’

The researchers believe this correlation may reveal type O people are less susceptible to the SARS-COV-2 virus. 

‘People of blood group A might need particularly strengthened personal protection to reduce the chance of infection,’ wrote the researchers in their paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed but has been published online on medrxiv.

‘Sars-CoV-2-infected patients with blood group A might need to receive more vigilant surveillance and aggressive treatment. ‘

The researchers add: ‘It might be helpful to introduce ABO blood typing in both patients and medical personnel as a routine part of the management of Sars-CoV-2 and other coronavirus infections, to help define the management options and assess risk exposure levels of people’. 

Gao Yingdai, a researcher with the State Key Laboratory of Experimental Haematology in Tianjin, told South China Morning Post: ‘[The study] may be helpful to medical professionals, but ordinary citizens should not take the statistics too seriously.

‘If you are type A, there is no need to panic. It does not mean you will be infected 100 percent.

‘If you are type O, it does not mean you are absolutely safe, either. You still need to wash your hands and follow the guidelines issued by authorities.’

The difference in blood groups depends on attachments to red blood cells called antigens. The presence, or absence, of these molecules dictates what blood type a person is. 

Previous research has indicates people with types A, B and AB blood have an increased risk of coronary heart disease compared to people with type O blood.

Other research claims people with blood type A have a 24 per cent higher risk of heart attack than people than people with AB or O blood types. 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

In general, the rarest blood type is AB-negative and the most common is O-positive. Here’s a breakdown of the most rare and common blood types by ethnicity, according to the American Red Cross.

O-positive:

  • African-American: 47 percent
  • Asian: 39 percent
  • Caucasian: 37 percent
  • Latino-American: 53 percent

O-negative:

  • African-American: 4 percent
  • Asian: 1 percent
  • Caucasian: 8 percent
  • Latino-American: 4 percent

A-positive:

  • African-American: 24 percent
  • Asian: 27 percent
  • Caucasian: 33 percent
  • Latino-American: 29 percent

A-negative:

  • African-American: 2 percent
  • Asian: 0.5 percent
  • Caucasian: 7 percent
  • Latino-American: 2 percent

B-positive:

  • African-American: 18 percent
  • Asian: 25 percent
  • Caucasian: 9 percent
  • Latino-American: 9 percent

B-negative:

  • African-American: 1 percent
  • Asian: 0.4 percent
  • Caucasian: 2 percent
  • Latino-American: 1 percent

AB-positive:

  • African-American: 4 percent
  • Asian: 7 percent
  • Caucasian: 3 percent
  • Latino-American: 2 percent

AB-negative:

  • African-American: 0.3 percent
  • Asian: 0.1 percent
  • Caucasian: 1 percent
  • Latino-American: 0.2 percent

A person’s blood type is based on whether or not they have certain molecules or proteins — called antigens — on the surface of their red blood cells, according to the National Institutes of Health. Two of the main antigens used for blood typing are known as “A antigen” and “B antigen.” People with type A blood only have A antigens on their red blood cells and those with type B blood have only B antigens. Individuals with type AB blood have both; people with type O blood have neither.

Another protein, the “Rh factor” – also known as the “Rhesus” system – is also present or absent on red blood cells. A person’s blood type is designated as “positive” if they have the Rh protein on their red blood cells, and “negative” if they don’t have this protein.

A person’s blood type is genetic, inherited from his or her parents, according to the Red Cross.

Blood typing is particularly important for blood transfusions, because certain antigens on blood cells can trigger a person’s immune system to attack the donated blood.

People who are Rh-negative can only receive Rh-negative blood, but people who are Rh- positive can receive either Rh-positive or Rh-negative blood, the Red Cross says.

What’s more, type A blood can be used for transfusions for patients with type A or type AB blood; type B blood can be used for patients with type B or type AB blood; and type AB blood can be used for patients with type AB blood. People with type O blood are called “universal donors” because this type can be used for patients with any blood type.

Type O blood is often in short supply in hospitals, due to demand for this universal donor type, according to the Red Cross. In particular, type O-negative blood is in high demand because it’s the one most often used for emergencies, when there may not be time to determine a patient’s blood type.

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