In the early throes of the coronavirus pandemic, two brothers in the Netherlands fell sick with Covid-19. They were young — 29 and 32 — and previously healthy. But both brothers developed severe symptoms and, at the end of March, were admitted to the intensive care unit. Within days, the older brother couldn’t breathe on his own and needed ventilation. His younger brother came down with an unusually high fever and eventually died from complications of the disease.
A physician took note of the cases and contacted Alexander Hoischen, PhD, a geneticist at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen, who set out to investigate why these brothers were so unusually affected. Sure, it could have been a coincidence, but Hoischen thought it was also possible that the brothers shared a genetic trait that compromised their immune systems.
“If you look at all the men hospitalized from Covid-19, it’s extremely unlikely that that happens to such young individuals, and then it happened twice in the same family,” Hoischen tells Elemental. “That was extremely remarkable to us.”
Days later, a second pair of brothers landed in separate Dutch hospitals. Both men, just 21 and 23 years old, also had difficulty breathing and were put on ventilators. CT scans revealed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus had ravaged the younger brother’s lungs. After more than a week in the hospital, both brothers were discharged. When Hoischen learned of the second pair of brothers, he was even more convinced that there was a genetic component to the young men’s severe disease.
Medium Coronavirus Blog
A Medium blog for Covid-19 news, advice, and commentary.
Over the course of the pandemic, it has become clear that certain factors — being elderly, male, obese, or a racial or ethnic minority — raise a person’s risk of developing severe Covid-19 and dying from it. Having an underlying chronic condition like diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure also significantly increases the likelihood of death…