The hypothesis that there are race and ethnic differences in susceptibility to the Covid-19 virus continues to strengthen. People of all races and nationalities can get it, of course, but it does not look like an Equal Opportunity disease. The question is why. Last week, I looked at studies from China that found specific racial differences in receptor genes in the lungs which might help to explain the patterns we are observing. But it is more than likely, in that races and ethnicities are genetic clusters evolved to different environments, that this difference is not the only factor involved.
Another possibility: race differences in the ability to maintain an optimum level of Vitamin C in the blood. This has been explored in detail by the health journalist Bill Sardi [Health Inheritance: Asians Have Lower Vitamin C Blood Levels; More Prone To Coronavirus & Other Infections, LewRockwell.com, March 7, 2020].
Maintaining healthy Vitamin C levels is extremely important. Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant, crucial because oxidization results in damage to cells and, so, a reduced ability to fight off infection. It is also crucial in repairing cells and maintaining a strong immune system. Vitamin C is obtained from certain kinds of fruit (most obviously oranges) and some vegetables, such as broccoli. People who don’t get enough of it are prone to cancer, heart problems, brain degeneration and, in extreme cases, scurvy.
However, maintaining Vitamin C in the blood isn’t solely a matter of diet. Genetics plays its part as well. Some people can maintain a high level of Vitamin C without eating that much fruit at all. It depends on the form of haptoglobin which they carry: Hp 1-1, Hp 2-1, or Hp 2-2.
Haptoglobin (HAPTO-G) is a protein in the blood that binds to haemoglobin, this being the red protein in blood cells that carries oxygen and iron. Haptoglobin destroys excess iron, limits the amount of (potentially damaging) unbound iron, and reduces the amount of iron lost in the kidneys.
Hp 2-2 doesn’t bind as well as the other two. The result of this is excess iron in the blood. This excess iron oxidates—rusts—in response to oxygen, setting off a process that also causes the Vitamin C to oxidate. This reduces the efficacy of the Vitamin C, causing the person with this form of HAPTO-G to have a less effective immune system.
There are race differences in the distribution of Hp 2-2. Chinese people are by far the most likely to carry Hp 2-2: approximately 56%. [Serum vitamin C concentration is influenced by haptoglobin polymorphism and iron status in Chinese, by Na Na et al., Clinica Chimica Acta, 2006]. People who carry Hp 2-2 are three times more likely to be Vitamin C deficient than people who carry the other two forms.
The implication, of course, is that one way of fighting this virus is to consume lots of Vitamin C-packed fruit. This is obvious advice, but it helps us, potentially, to understand why Covid-19 has been such a problem in China. For genetic reasons, the Chinese carry a lot of iron in their blood, but this makes them deficient in Vitamin C.
On this basis, we wouldn’t expect Covid-19 to be as damaging in Europe or the U.S. as it is in China.
We also shouldn’t be surprised that areas of the U.S. that are particularly hard hit by Covid-19, such as New Rochelle, NY, a square mile of which was recently quarantined, have a significant Asian population (4.2% in 2010). [Cuomo Announces 1-Mile ‘Containment Area’ In New Rochelle, Closes Large Gathering Places There For 2 Weeks, CBS, March 10, 2020]. We shouldn’t be surprised that Harvard College—which is 23% (mainly East) Asian—has decided to close and offer classes exclusively online for the time being.
We also shouldn’t be surprised by the extent to which Covid-19 has, and hasn’t, flared up outside China. It doesn’t appear to have been a big problem in Africa yet, a fact which many commentators—who can’t accept the existence of genetic race differences in anything other than skin color—have found very confusing.
But, then, Covid-19 shouldn’t be a big problem in Africa, because according to a huge meta-analysis [Haptoglobin: a review of the major allele frequencies worldwide and their association with diseases, by Kymberley Carter & Mark Worwood, International Journal of Laboratory Hematology, 2007], roughly 50% of Sub-Saharan Africans carry the vitamin C-helpful Hp 1 and in some African countries it’s as high as 70%. Studies from the United States reveal that 41% of Whites carry Hp 1, compared to 55% of Blacks, and 52% of Hispanics, but only 31% of Asians.
In the Middle East, only 28% of Muslim Iranians carry Hp 1. And only 30% of Israelis carry it.
Could this be why the Israelis (who are acutely aware of genetics) reacted so decisively to Covid-19? All new arrivals to Israel now face 2 weeks’ quarantine [Coronavirus: Israel to bring in 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, BBC News, March 9, 2020].
(Indeed, could this be true of Jews generally? Covid-19 reportedly broke out in New Rochelle, the U.S. city where a “containment area” has been set up, at a modern Orthodox synagogue, many of whose members are now infected; Westchester County, where New Rochelle is located, was reportedly 17 percent Jewish in 2011 [Jewish community caught inside coronavirus ‘containment zone,’ by Aiden Pink, Forward, March 10, 2020]. No less than 29 cases have just been confirmed at one nearby Jewish school, at a time when fewer than 1,000 cases were known in the entire U.S. [New York Jewish school says 29 students, staff diagnosed with virus, by Ben Harris, The Times Of Israel, March 11, 2020]).
The differences in the frequency of Hp 1 are small within Europe, but its frequency is among the lowest in Italy, where it is 36%. It is 40% in Scotland, the highest in Europe.
Now, of course, the key question is the population frequency of Hp 2-2, which is bad for vitamin C retention. Unfortunately, I cannot find a study that includes this information for lots of countries. However, within Italy, though Hp 1 is 36% nationwide, it is only 30% in northern Italy [Distribution of Haptoglobin Subtypes in Continental Italy and Sardinia, by Claudio Santor et al., Human Heredity, 1983], which has been worst affected by the virus.
It is incredible that this vital information is not discussed in the Main Stream Media and by the health authorities, to the point where the race of victims is simply being not being reported. We have so strongly conditioned to not think about race differences, by decades of indoctrination and intimidation, that we can’t even do so during what is turning into a very serious international crisis.
To repeat: If Covid-19 is not an Equal Opportunity disease, that means our race-denying Ruling Class is frightening most people too much—and not warning some people enough. This will not merely cause unnecessary chaos—it will cost lives.
Lance Welton [email him] is the pen name of a freelance journalist living in New York.