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UW study suggests people with respiratory allergies, asthma not as high-risk to COVID-19 as previously thought

Published: Apr. 27, 2020 at 10:04 PM CDT
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A new study suggests respiratory allergies and allergic asthma may have a protective mechanism in COVID-19.

The study was published by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) on April 22 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It said respiratory allergy, asthma and controlled allergen exposure were associated with significantly reduced gene expression in a protein that the coronavirus uses to infect cells with COVID-19.

This suggests a possible reason why people with respiratory allergy and asthma do not seem to experience some of the more severe and life-threatening manifestations of the COVID-19 disease.

Viral respiratory infections are the most common trigger of severe asthma exacerbations in children and adults, and it was widely assumed that the novel coronavirus would be no different, according to a press release from UW Health.

Unexpectedly, reports out of China found that asthma and respiratory allergies were not significant risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness in that country, the release said.

As a result, the researchers hypothesized that reduced ACE2 gene expression might be one of the contributing reasons why.

“We were surprised to learn that the COVID-19 pandemic in China did not seem to impact people with asthma as severely as we would’ve expected it to,” said Dr. Daniel Jackson, lead investigator and associate professor of pediatrics and medicine at UW SMPH. “Knowing that other risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness like hypertension and obesity lead to increased ACE2 expression, we wanted to determine if patients with allergies and asthma could have reduced ACE2 gene expression as a potential explanation for this unexpected early finding from the outbreak.”

Researchers said it is likely that additional factors also impact the response to COVID-19 in allergic individuals, and that additional research is needed to provide a greater understanding.