Human genetic variation and yellow fever mortality during 19th century U.S. epidemics.
We calculated the incidence, mortality, and case fatality rates for Caucasians and non-Caucasians during 19th century yellow fever (YF) epidemics in the United States and determined statistical significance for differences in the rates in different populations. We evaluated nongenetic host factors, including socioeconomic, environmental, cultural, demographic, and acquired immunity status that could have influenced these differences. While differences in incidence rates were not significant between Caucasians and non-Caucasians, differences in mortality and case fatality rates were statistically significant for all epidemics tested (P < 0.01). Caucasians diagnosed with YF were 6.8 times more likely to succumb than non-Caucasians with the disease. No other major causes of death during the 19th century demonstrated a similar mortality skew toward Caucasians. Nongenetic host factors were examined and could not explain these large differences. We propose that the remarkably lower case mortality rates for individuals of non-Caucasian ancestry is the result of human genetic variation in loci encoding innate immune mediators.Different degrees of severity of yellow fever have been observed across diverse populations, but this study is the first to demonstrate a statistically significant association between ancestry and the outcome of yellow fever (YF). With the global burden of mosquito-borne flaviviral infections, such as YF and dengue, on the rise, identifying and characterizing host factors could prove pivotal in the prevention of epidemics and the development of effective treatments.
Blake, LE; Garcia-Blanco, MA
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