Denby Fawcett: Some people never had Covid. Scientists want to know why – Honolulu Civil Beat | Gmx Pharm

By now it seems everyone has either caught Covid-19 or can name a long list of friends who have succumbed to it, particularly during the recent super-infectious Omicron variant waves.

Yet after two and a half years of the pandemic, some people remain Covid-free, never getting sick even after repeated exposure to the virus, and in some cases living with people who have had it.

Daniel Ross is one of them. He says he has been tested for Covid two or three dozen times after discovering he was in close contact with a person who had tested positive. He also continues to be routinely tested as a hospital worker. But he remains Corona-free.

Ross is a nurse on a surgical ward at Queen’s Medical Center – a unit that became a Covid ward during the Delta Rise. At the height of the pandemic, he was in close contact with dozens of infected patients every day.

Then, when he returned home from the hospital, he found himself under extra strain after his daughter and her boyfriend, who lived on his property, contracted the virus.

Ross has also had to fly to the mainland several times during the pandemic in his role as president of the 4,000-member Hawaii Nurses Association. That means he may have been exposed on each of the long plane journeys as he removed his mask to eat or drink.

Nevertheless, he was repeatedly tested negative. Ross is lightheartedly dubbed a “Covid superdodger” or “Covid virgin” — a phenomenon that has caught the attention of researchers in the US and many other countries. It’s one of the many mysteries of the pandemic.

Ross attributes his continued virus-free status to adhering to all safety protocols, including wearing tight-fitting KN-95 masks everywhere, including outdoors in crowded environments, and what he dismissed as “a bit of luck”.

Mask required sign at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.  09/18/2020
Masks were required at airports and on planes until April due to the coronavirus pandemic, but passengers were still at risk of exposure if they removed face coverings to eat and drink. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Liz Schwartz, owner of Coffee Talk in Kaimuki, has also escaped Covid, despite high levels of exposure for her customers, who came to the cafe unaware they were infected, and her sick relatives at home.

She was quarantined for the 10 days once required after close exposure when her husband and daughter, who lived with her in the same house, contracted the coronavirus.

“My husband and I slept in the same bed. We ate together. we kissed we are very close It’s crazy. I think if anyone should have gotten Covid it would be me,” she said.

About three months later, Schwartz was sharing food and car rides with friends who were in town for a memorial service that turned out to be nearly everyone else contracting the virus.

She’s been spending a lot of time lately with a friend who just got back from Las Vegas but didn’t know she caught the virus on her trip.

“Oh my god, I’ve been exposed to Covid so many times, but I’ve never tested positive,” says Schwartz.

She says she probably should refrain from talking about her happiness and what she believes to be her strong natural immune system. “I could hex myself. I will probably come down with Covid tomorrow.

liz schwartz coffee covid denby column
Coffee Talk owner Liz Schwartz believes she was likely exposed to Covid in her coffee shop and at home, but she never tested positive. Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2021

I feel the same. My number for Covid-19 has not come yet. But I don’t want to talk about it out of concern that I’ll bachi myself and get hit with a very bad case. It also seems bad manners to even mention it when so many others have suffered or died from the disease.

Epidemiologist Tim Brown says if someone told him that after dodging the virus for more than two years, he’d probably never get it, he’d reply, “Don’t bet on it.”

“They probably haven’t been exposed to a large enough dose of the virus yet, or they may have already had Covid and didn’t know it,” he says.

Brown, an infectious disease specialist and senior fellow at the East-West Center, points out that researchers have found genetic mutations that provide real protection, but only from a few viruses.

One of these was the discovery in the 1990s that only 1% of Europeans were born with a rare mutation in the genetic receptor known as CCR-5. This made their bodies able to resist HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. CCR-5 is the receptor that allows the AIDS virus to enter cells to cause the deadly disease. A mutated version of this proved to be extremely protective.

Knowledge of the particular CCR-5 mutation led to new protocols for treating HIV, including bone marrow transplants, which resulted in two people being cured of HIV, the only two known to fully combat AIDS.

Scientists have also found a genetic mutation called FUT2 that prevents certain strains of norovirus from entering cells in the human digestive tract to cause severe gastroenteritis in an infected person.

It’s not yet known if there’s a similar genetic blocker for Covid-19, but an international consortium called Covid Human Genetic Effort began collecting saliva samples from thousands of volunteers last year to find out.

“However, as with any superpower, true resistance to SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – would likely be very rare,” said Dr. Helen Su from the National Institute of Allergy and Infections and a co-leader of the consortium.

The team’s scientists are particularly interested in finding out whether a mutation in a genetic receptor called ACE-2 could make some people resistant to the virus. Covid needs to bind to ACE-2 to enter and infect cells. A weakened or buggy version of this portal could explain why some people avoided the virus.

Daniel Ross, President of the Hawaii Nurses' Association
Daniel Ross, a registered nurse, has not tested positive for the coronavirus despite having been in contact with many patients who have had it. Courtesy Daniel Ross

Another possible reason for Covid resistance that has been studied is that some people who have remained virus-free may have natural immunity gained from repeated previous exposure to other coronaviruses such as the common cold.

Some individuals may also have avoided infection because their immune systems produce a glut of type 1 interferons, the powerful proteins that can stop the virus from replicating before it has time to attach itself to human cells.

But just because certain people have dodged the SARS2 coronavirus so far, it’s unlikely their luck will last forever, Brown says.

Scientists are still in the early stages of finding a genetic blocker, and even if they do, they expect few will have it.

And as Brown has pointed out, the answer to why some people have successfully escaped Covid may be because they were simply not exposed to a high enough dose of it.

Also, and mostly, just because some seem immune to the current variants of the virus, it continues to evolve while constantly mutating, sometimes finding new and more powerful ways to make itself even more infectious.

If there’s anything we’re sure of now about this pandemic, it’s that the virus powering it is highly efficient.

So, people who have so far escaped infection should refrain from celebrating their happiness by jumping on a crowded dance floor or going maskless in crowded places, including outdoors.

In my own case, I remain cautious, safe from contagion. It’s only a matter of time.

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