Having a faulty gene linked to dementia doubles the risk of developing severe COVID-19, according to a large-scale study. Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and the University of Connecticut School of Medicine analysed data from the UK Biobank, and found high risk of severe COVID-19 infection among European ancestry participants who carry two faulty copies of the APOE gene (termed e4e4). One in 36 people of European ancestry have two faulty copies of this gene, and this is known to increase risks of Alzheimer’s disease up to 14-fold* and also increases risks of heart disease.
The team has previously found that people with dementia are three times more likely to get severe COVID-19, yet they are not one of the groups advertised to shield – or shelter in place – on health grounds. Part of the increased risk effect may have been exposure to the high prevalence of the virus in care homes. However, the new study, published in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, indicates that a genetic component may also be at play.