Irish researchers seek those who have avoided Covid-19

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin are searching for people who may have innate resistance to Covid-19 to take part in an international study.

Those who have shared a bed with someone with Covid-19 without contracting the disease themselves are of particular interest to the researchers.

The study, which aims to understand why some people are “naturally resistant” to Covid-19 infection, could have implications for vaccine development and public health measures.

Professor Cliona O’Farrelly, the principal investigator of the study said 14 countries are involved and they are ideally looking for people who resisted Covid-19 before vaccination, as well as after the discovery of the Omicron variant.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, she said some people have an innate immune system that is able to “keep the virus away without becoming infected at all”.

Prof O’Farrelly, a professor of comparative immunology and biochemistry at TCD, said the study will try to “look for a needle in a haystack” to look for innate immunity.

The two-pronged approach will look at healthcare workers at St James’s Hospital and their household contacts, as well as volunteers from the general public who have not contracted Covid-19 despite being household contacts of someone with the disease.

The study is interested in adult household contacts of people who had confirmed Covid-19, who shared a bed within the first three symptomatic days of the person being infected, or were exposed for at least one hour a day to the person during the first five symptomatic days.

This criteria is used for the purposes of categorizing contributors only and is different to the HSE guidelines on close contacts, which is available on the HSE website.

“This consortium is looking for genetic markers of resistance to infection. So it means having to sequence the whole genome of the people who are resistance – it is like looking for a needle in a haystack, because the human genome is so hugely variable,” she said.

“We’re anticipating that we will see some mutations in some of the innate immune genes that give people resistance,” she added.

The innate immune system’s response is the immediate reaction to an infection.

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The immune systems of those involved will be examined through blood and saliva tests, in order to identify differences and determine why some people showed resistance to the virus.

Both the person who tested positive and the contact (or contacts) who did not test positive are asked to take part. Those who have been vaccinated can also take part.

Prof O’Farrelly said some people have also avoided infection through being careful. The reason why some people escape Covid-19 infection is unclear.

In a study published in Nature Communications this year, researches assess 52 household contacts of people with Covid-19, and found evidence they said suggested previous exposure to other coronaviruses may have contributed to a response from a pre-existing memory T cell phenotype.

Prof O’Farrelly said data gathered throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has been proven that resistance to infection is also associated with high socioeconomic status.

“In other words, poverty makes people more susceptible to infection,” she said.

The first step for those wishing to take part is to fill out a questionnaire on the Viral Resistance Project website.

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