Genetic link to loss of smell in COVID-19 patients

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ATLANTA – Over the past 15 months, scientists from 23 and me investigated why COVID-19 affects people so differently and why some experience certain symptoms, such as loss of smell. Genetics could play a role in the response.

Dr Janie Shelton, senior scientist and epidemiologist at 23andMe, said they started genetic research on symptoms, like anosmia (loss of smell), in March 2020.

“About 68% of the population who tested positive reported losing their sense of smell or taste,” Shelton said.

They discovered a genetic link as to why some people lose their sense of smell to COVID and others don’t.

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To get their data, they sent out surveys through their app to customers across the United States. More than 1.3 million people responded, 80,000 of whom had lived with COVID-19.

Since they were all 23andMe customers, the scientists already had their genetic makeup in their system.

“We conducted one of these genome association studies on people who had lost their sense of smell compared to people who had not lost their sense of smell among the population that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2“Shelton said.

The genetic link they found was associated with a gene that expresses itself inside the nose in the olfactory tract.

“It has to do with how the olfactory process removes irritants,” Shelton said. “So this genetic marker with one variant increases the odds by 11% and with 2 variants it doubles them.”

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Shelton said the chances of having this variant depend on your genetics and your ancestors.

Studies show that the genetic variant associated with anosmia is found most often in people of European descent at 37% and the least common is those of East Asian descent at 19%.

Shelton said it’s important to know that genetic factors play such an important role in the Covid response brings us closer to understanding this deadly virus and provides another piece of the covid puzzle.

Most people who have reported anosmia say they regained their scent in about 10 days, but they are still wondering how genetics play into anosmia that lasts much longer.


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