“Should You Try an At-Home Genetic Test for COVID-19?”

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The Story

“Should You Try an At-Home Genetic Test for COVID-19?”
by Jeanne Erdmann
Discover, November 1, 2021

The Pitch

Hey Megan,

It’s been a while since I’ve written for you – For many reasons I took some time off over the summer, but I’m back to freelancing. I found this story from the recent meeting of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (the meeting was last week and it ended Saturday), and since you’re interested in genetic testing, I thought it would work for Discover’s readers.

Can Genetic Tests Predict Your COVID Risk?

At home genetic tests are so common these days, we’re already used to mailing off our spit and watching for the results. But if you’re wondering what your DNA has to say about COVID risk, you may want to hold off.

Some very preliminary studies have linked genetic hot spots to COVID risk, or to severe disease if we do get sick, but none of these findings have been validated. That hasn’t stopped some companies from selling DNA tests claiming to provide you with a genetic risk score for COVID. Researchers from Kean University in New Jersey studied results of tests from five, at-home genetic testing companies, and found wildly different results. Of the three companies that looked at disease risk, one company tested variants in four genes, another in seven genes, and the third scanned 31 genes. But only one gene was common to all three companies. Results for the two companies testing for severe disease were even more scattered.

And, you might think that if one person took all five tests, the results would be similar, but that didn’t happen either. One company described the risk as “relatively lower-than-average likelihood of severe complications,” while another reported the same person had “higher risk for severe critical symptoms.”  I wonder how much valuable information these tests would give consumers. You couldn’t feel relieved over low-risk results, and you shouldn’t worry if the tests came back saying you were at high risk of disease. And you certainly shouldn’t change your behavior over the results, or stop wearing masks.

I have a lot of sources in this area who would be able to provide context. I would interview the researchers who did the study, and I would also reach out to the companies.

I can get this to you in about 2 weeks if you are interested. It’s a timely story that’s not going away anytime soon.


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