Sickle Cell Anemia is a genetic mutation that first occurred in Africa about 9,000 years ago and has stayed with us as it has been proven to be an adaptation to fight Malaria.
Though Sickle Cell (carried by one in 12 African Americans) can dramatically reduce longevity, it’s actually an inherited genetic mutation that increased longevity in the malaria-plagued era before insecticides, swamp draining schemes, bed-netting, and air-conditioning.
Sickle Cell Anemia is not the only genetic adaptation formed to fight Malaria.
Another is red blood cell Duffy antigen negativity. Duffy Negativity is carried by 97 percent of west and central Africans, making them impervious to Vivax Malaria (one of the two common types).
Is there a downside to Duffy Negativity, as there is with Sickle Cell?
There is: Duffy Negativity is associated with higher rates of asthma, pneumonia, and cancer among carriers, as well as a 40 percent increase in susceptibility to HIV.
Other human genetic mutations have occurred and survived due to their ability to combat Malaria.
Thalassemia is another blood cell mutation, most common in southern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, which reduces the risk of Vivax Malaria by about 50 percent.
Another mutation is G6PDD which provides weaker immunity than Duffy Negativity, but which causes “Baghdad Fever” if a carrier does catch malaria and is then treated with quinine or chloroquine.
What’s any of this have to do with Covid-19?
Hard to know, but when we see dramatic differences in infection and mortality among African American and Latino populations in the US, genetic loads related to ancient battles against Malaria may have a small impact.
Without a doubt, most differences in Covid-19 infection and mortality rates are going to be due to type of job (people in service jobs are particularly susceptible to infection), age, access to health care, living habits, population density, etc.
But with so many negative health loads traced back to genetic adaptations to fight Malaria, and with both Covid-19 and Malaria being red blood cell diseases, entanglement of the two diseases is not out of the question, even if it’s simply greater gene-related co-morbidities in some populations — co-morbidities that increase the chance of a Covid-related death.