US Congressional Representative Mark Takano’s (California) office recently sent out an email which attempts to relay information to the public about the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately, helpful information is mixed with disinformation that could lead to harm.
This email in its zeal to speak out against racism misinforms the public about the risks of COVID-19 infections.
Quote from Takano’s email:
Being Chinese or Asian American does not increase the chance of getting or spreading COVID-19.
People who have not recently traveled to China or been in contact with a person who is a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 are not at greater risk of acquiring and spreading COVID-19 than other Americans.
As a member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I urge you to please be respectful of your Asian American friends and neighbors. We cannot allow this public health emergency to lead members of our community to be targets of discrimination. Racism and xenophobia are not welcome or tolerated in our community.
While speaking out against racism is laudable, in this case it includes statements that appear to be inaccurate based upon current science and may cause harm.
Groups With Higher ACE2 Receptor Expression May Raise Infection Risk
China’s scientists are publishing data which appear to indicate that Asians, especially Asian males, are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection because of how they have more ACE2 (Angiotensis Converting Enzyme 2) receptors in their bodies than other ethnic groups.
As ACE2 receptors are pathways SARS-like coronaviruses use to infect cells, people with higher numbers of ACE2 receptors are more likely to be infected by these types of viruses. The severity of their infections is also likely to be worse, too.
2019-nCoV aka COVID-19 has been confirmed to use ACE2 receptors for cell entry, just like SARS coronavirus does.
China’s scientists are well acquainted with coronavirus due to their extensive research on SARS coronavirus.
A recent preliminary paper out of China is pointing out that 2019-nCoV (aka COVID-19) appears to infect just as SARS did, via ACE2 receptors, and this may explain at least in part why the virus has hit China so hard:
This new coronavirus has resulted in thousands of cases of lethal disease in China, with additional patients being identified in a rapidly growing number internationally. 2019-nCov was reported to share the same receptor, Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), with SARS-Cov. Here based on the public database and the state-of-the-art single-cell RNA-Seq technique, we analyzed the ACE2 RNA expression profile in the normal human lungs. The result indicates that the ACE2 virus receptor expression is concentrated in a small population of type II alveolar cells (AT2). Surprisingly, we found that this population of ACE2-expressing AT2 also highly expressed many other genes that positively regulating viral reproduction and transmission. A comparison between eight individual samples demonstrated that the Asian male one has an extremely large number of ACE2-expressing cells in the lung. This study provides a biological background for the epidemic investigation of the 2019-nCov infection disease, and could be informative for future anti-ACE2 therapeutic strategy development.
More study, particularly with lung tissue samples from more people, is needed to refine preliminary findings from this one paper. It is certainly within possibility that more samples would show the study’s tentative conclusion that Asian males are at higher risk is wrong.
Data from the 1000 Genomes Project, which includes far more genetic data than the Chinese study, indicates that Asians do have higher numbers of ACE2 receptors than African and Caucasians.
So based upon current information, it is a reasonable hypothesis that Asians are at higher risk of infection from COVID-19 than some other groups. However, saying it is a “scientific fact” would be a severe overstatement.
Other groups may also have higher than average ACE2 receptor expression, and thus could have similarly varying risks.
Racism is bad, and should be discouraged. But it should not be discouraged by making these sorts of anti-scientific statements that deny there are genetic and biomedical differences between population groups that place some groups at higher risk of harm. By doing so, Takano’s email is denying Asians and other ethnic groups information that could prove to be useful to protect themselves from harm.
The video nCov Explained: HIV Inserts, ACE2 Receptors, Cytokine Storms, and Bio Weapon Possibility, although it needs some editing to clean it up, does a decent job of explaining quite a few aspects of COVID-19 related to ACE2 infection mechanisms, infection of other cell types similar to HIV, why videos from China show people collapsing and dying from the virus, and some explanations for the suspicion that COVID-19 is a bioweapon.
ACE2 Receptor Blockers May Help
People who know they are likely to be at higher risk of infection due to their biology will be motivated to take additional steps to ensure their safety.
ACE2 receptor blocking compounds could be the sorts of medicines that Chinese and Asians could use to help reduce their risk of COVID-19 and SARS infections.
In turns out that ACE2 receptor blockers exist, and they have been used in China for thousands of years.
Some smart Chinese people over a period of thousands of years developed an understanding of how plants contain biochemical compounds that can impact human health. One such system of understanding and application of this information is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that has much knowledge of how plants, and their wealth of biochemical compounds, can be used to help improve human health.
Expert Stephen Buhner, an accomplished herbalist and author of the 5-star rated book Herbal Antivirals, looked at what TCM (and other traditional medicinal practices such as Ayurvedic) has to offer for treating viral pandemics plus the many scientific studies showing what makes these practices work.
Here’s a short quote from his book that discusses the important of ACE2 receptors to SARS coronavirus infections:
SARS, unlike influenza, attaches not to sialic acid linkages but to angiotensis converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2). This is an integral membrane protein on many cells throughout the body, including the heart, vascular cells, and kidneys. It is intimately involved in regulating the renin-angiotensin system (RAS). The RAS is intimately involvely in vascular constriction and renal electrolyte homeodynamis, which is where its primary impacts were thought to be. But the RAS is also crucial to the functioning of most organs, including the lungs, spleen, and lymph nodes. ACE-2 converts angiotensin II to less potent molecular forms. Among other things angiotensin II is a potent vasoconstrictor but it is also highly bioactive along a range of cellular actions.
SARS viruses attach to ACE-2 on the surface of lung, lymph, and spleen endothelial cells. (Licorice, Chinese skullcap, luteolin, horse chestnut, Polygonum spp., Rheum officinale, and plants high in procyanidins and lectins such as elder and cinnamon block attachment to varying degrees.) Once the receptors on these cells are compromised there is enhanced vascular permeability, increased lung edema, neutrophil accumulation, and worsened lung function. In essence, once the virus begins attaching to ACE-2, ACE-2 function begins to be destroyed. ACE-2 function also tends to be less dynamic as people grow older, hence the more negative the effects of SARS infection on the elderly. (Kudzu, Salvia miltiorrhiza, and ginkgo all upregulate and protect ACE-2 expression and activity and lower angiotensin II levels.) ACE (in contrast to ACE-2) inhibitors increase the presence of ACE-2 and help protect the lungs from injury. (Hawthorn and kudzu, for example.)
The Herbal Antivirals book contains protocols for using herbs against SARS coronavirus, influenza, Ebola, and many other viruses based upon both traditional uses and scientific research into why those plants may be helpful and how their biochemical constituents function.
As SARS coronavirus is so similar to COVID-19, it is likely much of the information on SARS also applies to COVID-19.
Many of the plants used in these protocols are from Traditional Chinese Medicine. Chinese skullcap and licorice root in particular are widely used in many of the protocols as they are shown in many scientific studies and herbal traditions to have broad anti-viral activity.
Licorice root was found to be effective against SARS coronavirus in a 2003 study. At high concentrations it was able to completely block SARS-CoV viral replication.
Additionally, the protocols in Herbal Antivirals include information on herbs to use to help reduce the inflammatory cytokine storms that are so deadly in those who are infected with severe respiratory infections such as SARS and influenza.
Knowledge Of Genetics Is Not Racist
Finally, it may be there are other genetic risk factors that make some groups more susceptible to harm from COVID-19 than others.
The notion that certain population groups may have genetic risk factors for disease is not a new idea, and there is a lot of science showing it is possible.
Northern Chinese, Italians, and Hispanics share a high rate of MTHFR gene variants and
this may make them more susceptible to certain diseases than groups that seldom have those variants.
Northern Europeans have higher rates of HLA immune system gene variants that appear to be connected to susceptibility to certain triggers initiating auto-immune conditions, for instance Pandemrix H1N1 flu vaccine and its link to narcolepsy and cataplexy.
Quote from Narcolepsy Associated with Pandemrix Vaccine:
After the Pandemrix vaccination campaign in 2009-2010, the risk of narcolepsy was increased 5- to 14-fold in children and adolescents and 2- to 7-fold in adults.
All Pandemrix-associated narcolepsy cases have been positive for HLA class II DQB1*06:02 and novel predisposing genetic factors directly linking to the immune system have been identified.
It is not racist to point any of this out.
For gene variants such as these to have persisted and spread in these populations, it is likely they convey some advantages and not just disadvantages. Gene variants that may be troublesome in some situations may increase survival in specific kinds of environments or against specific pathogens. As an example, consider sickle-cell anemia that protects against malaria.
It would be better for all us to know what these factors are, which ones we have ourselves, and to apply such knowledge to benefit everybody regardless of race than to pretend all people are the same when in fact they are not.
Takano’s office should correct its disinformation and update the public with the sort of practicable accurate information mentioned above that could provide means to protect all of us, Asians included, from infection and death by COVID-19.
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