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August 2, 2022 7 mins

As the group of people who have not had Covid continues to shrink, many ideas begin to swirl about how they have avoided it for so long.  For some it could be a healthy immune system, masking, or just luck, but could genetics also be at play?  Katherine Wu, staff writer at The Atlantic, joins us for how scientists are looking into whether some are just naturally resistant to the virus.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
It's Tuesday, August two. I'm oscar A Mirrors from the
Daily Dive podcast in Los Angeles, and this is reopening America.
As the group of people who have not had COVID
continues to shrink, many ideas begin to squirrel about how
they've avoided it for so long. For some, it could
be a healthy immune system masking or just luck, but

(00:20):
could genetics also be at play. Katherine Wu, staff writer
at The Atlantic, joins us for how scientists are looking
into whether some are just naturally resistant to the virus.
Thanks for joining us, Katherine, Thanks so much for having me. Well,
we've seen the omicron sub variant b A five take
hold of the country. A lot of people are getting
infected for the first time, a lot of people are

(00:40):
getting reinfected, and we're looking at this incredibly shrinking number
of people that have never gotten COVID this whole time
that we've been going through the pandemic, and you know,
there's a lot of questions what could be at play there.
Some people, it could be a mix of luck, just
really taking care of themselves, avoiding people and situation where
they could catch the virus. But others and scientists are

(01:02):
really looking to see if there could be any genetic
factors behind this. You know, we've known for a long
time that even when we're dealing with other viruses like HIV,
that some people are genetically resistant to some of that stuff.
So they're looking to see hoping to see if they
can find something related to coronavirus in that same sense.
So Captain tell us a little bit about that. Yeah,
I mean, you've summed up really well. You know, this

(01:25):
is an incredibly tantalizing idea. With the virus that is
so transmissible and have seemingly infected just about everyone in
the past couple of years, it is worth wondering, you know,
what is going on with the people who haven't gotten it. Obviously,
so many factors contribute to whether or not a person
gets infected, and we do have to acknowledge here that
a lot of people who think they haven't been infected

(01:47):
probably have. It's certainly not There may be people who
never get this, not just because they haven't had the
opportunity to because they can't get it. You know, there's
a little bit of pressent for this, and if science
just are able to find these people, it's not just
a gus kind of things. It could really lead to
new treatments, maybe even new vaccines, innovative ways to combat

(02:09):
the virus. And you know, scientists they're certainly hopeful because
they've already identified factors that can make infections that people
do get less severe. So genetics really can play a
huge role in what happens when pathogens try to infect us. Now,
we don't know how readibly available something like this would be,
how easy it would be to track it down. You
had a note in your article of the fourteen hundred

(02:31):
or so viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi that can cause
diseases and humans, there's really only three that can be
shut out by some genetic tweaks. So we're looking at HIV,
neuro virus, and malaria parasite. But that still doesn't close
out the possibility that we can find something that could
hold off coronaviruses. And even in that, it doesn't have
to be a complete shut off. You know, even if

(02:53):
we can find some partial protection would be really good
when we're looking at future treatments and vaccines and all
that stuff. You know, it doesn't have to be the
full cell, And I think that's really important to think
about because it hits this middle ground that I think
is quite important to think about it this way. If
there is a wall that the virus needs to clear
to infect you, the wall doesn't need to be infinitely high,

(03:16):
just higher than the virus can jump in most circumstances,
and as long as you are not getting exposed to say,
enormous doses, that might be enough to protect you in
a lot of situations. And it's actually really hard to
tell the difference between some sort of genetic factor that
makes you difficult to infect it impossible to infect. But
that also means that you know, those circus factors are

(03:39):
going to be more common things that lower your risk
of infecting rather than completely eliminating it. But that's important
to keep in mind because no one should be walking
around right now assuming that they're impervious. If this sort
of genetic resistance exists, it's probably really rare. It could
come with other health cops, and it may not exist
at all, and so people should really rely on what's
more important, which is acquired in unity, like they can

(04:00):
get through vaccines that can protect people just as well
that can also build a wall that makes it really
hard for the virus to jump over. But the hope
is that, you know, maybe we could find something. And
you know, when we talk about examples like HIV, I mean,
we just had a story of another person overcoming the
HIV virus. Now this was done through stem cell transplants,

(04:21):
but it was done in coordination with genes from you know,
a person that was resistant to it. So if we
can find that magic thing, then hopefully we can learn
from that and really put that forward on COVID and
other coronaviruses. I think it's absolutely worthwhile to look into
this and even if we don't find, you know, something
equivalent to the story with HIV, even understanding what makes

(04:42):
disease worse to help us make it better through interventions.
So this kind of research, the importance that it really
can't be discounted. And there is some studies I guess
going on right now. I know there's teams of scientists
that are coordinating with people that have not gotten COVID
so far and they're really looking into them. What kind
of work is being done on that front. Yeah, and
I think one of the big takeaways here it's just
how hard this is. You know, you cited that statistics

(05:04):
before about how you know, a lot of scientists are
really only sure about three microbes that can be shut
out by genetical registans out of the fourteen hundred plots
that are known to be capable of infecting us in
causing disease. That's not necessarily because it is only three,
but just because this is so difficult to prove. There
are other candidates out there, but it's really hard to say, oh,

(05:25):
this is a slam dunk. We definitely have some sort
of genetic existance here. I think about how difficult it
is to even figure out that someone has been infected
by this coronavirus. You have to catch that infection in time,
because i'mlike HIV, this is not typically a chronic infection.
You know, people do develop antibodies, even can try to
look for those months later, but antibodies also fade, and

(05:45):
you can't always look for the same types of antibodies
and everyone because some antibodies can be elicited by both
infections and vaccines, and researchers may try to look for
things that stick around longer, like T cells another type
of immune response, but those they're much harder to study.
It's not just a test that you can do on
a stick at the drug store. And if people aren't

(06:05):
paying super close attention to this and they don't have
documentation that they probably weren't infected at the time, it's
really difficult and scientists basically have to rule out were
you in circumstances that led you to be heavily exposed
but not get infected. Otherwise it would be everyone who
has been you know, masking vigilantly, and that would create
a lot of noise in this data. It's just a

(06:26):
really difficult connection to nail. Yeah, just for now, just
an interesting look to see how genetics could play a
factor in this. I was part of that no COVID
clever quite some time and got me a few months ago,
So so I'm out. You know, you can't count me
in then anymore. But always looking to see what's developing
their Katherine wu staff writer at The Atlantic, Thank you
very much for joining us. Thanks very much for having me.

(06:51):
I'm Oscar Ramors and this has been reopening America. Don't
forget effort today's big news stories. You can check me
out on the Daily Dive podcast every money through Friday,
so all uson I Heart Radio or wherever you get
your podcast,
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