WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish scientists have found a gene that they say more than doubles the risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19, a discovery they hope could help doctors identify people who are most at risk from the disease.
With vaccine hesitancy a major factor behind high coronavirus death rates in central and eastern Europe, researchers hope that identifying those at greatest risk will encourage them to get a shot and give them access to more intensive treatment options in case of an infection.
"After more than a year and a half of work it was possible to identify a gene responsible for a predisposition to becoming seriously ill (with coronavirus)," said Health Minister Adam Niedzielski.
"This means that in the future we will be able to... identify people with a predisposition to suffer seriously from COVID."
The researchers from the Medical University of Bialystok found that the gene was the fourth most important factor determining how seriously a person suffers from COVID-19, after age, weight and gender.
The gene is present in around 14% of the Polish population, compared to 8-9% in Europe as a whole and 27% in India, said Marcin Moniuszko, the professor in charge of the project.
Other studies have also shown the importance of genetic factors in how seriously COVID-19 develops.
In November, British scientists said they had identified a version of a gene that may be associated with double the risk of lung failure from COVID-19.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)