Thu, Sep 25, 2003 - Page 1 News List

SARS susceptibility linked to genes

INBUILT RESISTANCE A doctor said she has identified a certain gene, found in 10 percent of people in Taiwan, that makes them more likely to suffer from the SARS virus


Susceptibility to SARS could be related to genetics, a hematologist at Mackay Memorial Hospital said yesterday.

Dr. Marie Lin (林媽利), of Mackay's Transfusion Medicine Laboratory, said no theories expounded during the height of the SARS outbreaks could explain why some people did not contract the illness even though they had close contact with SARS patients, while others fell victim to the epidemic easily with only short and vaguely defined encounters with patients.

Doctors have had little idea of why some people only developed slight flu-like symptoms after being infected by SARS while others died, Lin said at a press conference to make public her findings about the relationship between SARS and human genes.

Lin said that after comparing hundreds of blood samples from SARS patients, she and her team found that people with the human leucocype antigen (HLA)-B46 gene are most likely to fall victim to SARS, while people with the HLA-B13 gene are relatively immune to the SARS virus.

Lin said that about 10 percent of Taiwan's population have the HLA-B46 gene. These people share the gene with "southern Asians," including people from China's southern coastal provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, Hong Kong, Singapore and part of Vietnam, where people have maintained close genetic connections over the past 400 years, she added.

She said many SARS patients were relatives or members of the same families, indicating that blood relations might have been one of the factors causing the transmission of the disease.

Meanwhile, she continued, none of Taiwan's Aboriginal people fell victim to SARS.

Aborigines were unaffected by SARS because this group of people have genetic make-ups totally different from those of the "southern Asians" and do not have the SARS-prone HLA-B46 gene, Lin said.

She said that although some Canadian nationals were hit by SARS, a great majority of them were of Chinese descent, originating from Hong Kong or southern China.

Explaining why many people in Beijing contracted SARS, Lin attributed this development to demographic changes in the capital city as a result of the Cultural Revolution, during which the entire Chinese population experienced forced immigration, and the fact that many residents of southern China have migrated to Beijing for business or education purposes in recent years.

Lin said the purpose of her laboratory's blood research is mainly to find an effective method of SARS prevention before the disease can make a reappearance this winter.

If necessary, medical care workers can contact the Mackay Transfusion Medicine Lab for test doses that can screen blood to find out who has the HLA-B46 gene so that they can take precautions to avoid being infected, she added.

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