Updated: Mar 29, 2020
In short, the answer is, "Yes!" There are memes and social shares circulating stating that there are no reports of Africans and African-Americans having Covid-19 and that blacks are immune. Is this true? Let's investigate.
Rumors quickly began to spread online as early global reports did not show any cases of Covid-19 in Africa. Just a week later, however, the first cases in Egypt and Nigeria were documented. Later, other cases began to appear in Africa. These patients were not Africans, however, so this supported the idea that black people are immune to the virus.
Black Africans and African-Americans can get the coronavirus
The first known case of an African contracting Covid-19 was Senou Pavel Daryl, a 21-year-old Cameroon national studying in China. He has now fully recovered as expected.
March 9th, 2020, a Nigerian citizen tested positive for the virus in Maryland.
March 11th, 2020, the Ivory Coast confirms its first case. A 45-year-old resident who had been on a recent trip to Italy.
March 12, 2020, Gabon reported its first case, that of a 27-year-old man who recently returned home from France.
March 12, 2020, Ghana confirms two cases. The two people had made recent trips to Norway and Turkey, authorities say.
March 13th, 2020, a Sudanese national died after returning from a trip to the UAE.
March 13th, 2020, Kenya confirmed its first case. The patient is a Kenyan who traveled from the US via London, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe says.
March 16th, 2020, Hollywood actor Idris Elba tested positive for the coronavirus.
March 19th, 2020, New York citizen, Mike Green hospitalized after feverish temperatures and cough. Shortly after confirmed for Covid-19, Mike began experiencing shortness of breath. He's been hospitalized for 7 days at the recording of this video.
March 23, 2020, New York Principal, Dez-Ann Romain (36) died from complications with Covid-19.
March 24th, 2020, Abba Kyari, Nigerian Chief of Staff.
So, yes, as you can see, a black person can contract the virus and have Covid-19 disease. There are hundreds of other cases now as of March 25th, 2020 so the author can no longer keep up with infected African and Black African-Americans. I hope the point has been made.
There are many people quarantined on ships, in dorms, and in their apartments all over the world so it is unsure how many more people of African descent are impacted. This section will update as more people from Africa and recent African descent are confirmed positive.
UPDATE: 03/16/2020 - A recent study revealed that it appears that people with type A blood are more susceptible to the virus, while people with type O are less susceptible. 45% of the African population have Type O blood. Be advised that this needs to be verified but this was included as it is an active part of active research.
Median age also appears to be a factor as in Nigeria, for instance, the median age is 17.9 while in the UK it is 42.6. This virus causes fewer problems for teens than it does for adults so this is a factor that is being investigated as well.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa.
So Why Hasn't It Spread Faster?
Reporting is a major issue in many African nations. The entire continent only had two coronavirus testing centers until the first week of March. It is now up to 33 as of March 10, 2020. The African CDC has concerns that the virus is already spreading throughout the continent but might be going undetected due to a lack of resources. The problem is that many of these facilities cannot test for the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Many diseases are already prevalent on the African continent which is consistent with the symptoms of COVID-19 disease, but there is no way to test for the antibodies, yet. Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, the head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control states, "Similar symptoms such as body aches at the onset of both diseases could make it difficult to diagnose the coronavirus early on."
Another theory is that the combination of the lack of resources to test for Sars-Cov-2 and environmental temperature could play a role in reducing transmissibility. However, it is hot and arid in the Middle East and verified cases are on the rise so this may not offer the best explanation. Another perspective is that many people in Africa are more spread-out; as a result, there is less chance of passing on the disease. In reality, all these factors may be at play here. Update: 03/13/02 - WHO just announced that there is no evidence that temperature impacts the transmission of this virus at this time.
Memes and disinformation have been spreading stating that the skin pigment, Melanin, is protecting black people from the coronavirus. This claim is absurd and unsupported as the coronavirus infects the lungs, not your skin. Other memes are stating that blacks have more antibodies than whites, which offers them more protection. Professor Amadou Alpha Sall who is the director of the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal (who researches the coronavirus) states, “There’s no scientific evidence to support this rumour..... Ethnicity and genetics have no influence on recovery from the virus, and black people don’t have more antibodies than white people." (Yes, this is actually a meme going around.)
Scientific and Genetic Perspectives
Sars-Cov-2 enters cells through receptors on the cells. Think of the receptors and being locks and only the right key(s) will allow a substance in. Coronaviruses have a unique way of binding to these receptors to allow themselves in. The receptor that Cov-2 has the key for is known as human ACE-2. Different populations of humans have slightly different locks. This is because all humans are essentially genetic mutants of their ancestors. These genetic differences at times can offer some protection against certain diseases (think black death and HIV). Some humans have more or less of these receptors and some have slight differences or variations. These differences, however, are not enough to protect a human population from contracting Covid-19, but there is a possibility that changes in these receptors could increase or reduce the speed of infection. In the study by Cao, et. al., his team sought out to see if the allelic differences (gene changes) between populations awarded some protection against the novel coronavirus. His team did find genetic differences but did not see enough differences which would prevent the novel coronavirus from infecting lung cells. The one group that did have the most genetic variability in the ACE-2 receptor were East Asians. The study alludes to the idea that if any group may have some protection it would be the east Asian groups but more studies need to be carried out.
From the study: "Our findings indicated that no direct evidence was identified genetically supporting the existence of coronavirus S-protein binding-resistant ACE2 mutants in different populations."
There is no scientific evidence that blacks are immune to the coronavirus. Though some populations of humans may be able to slow the rate of infection, precautions still must be taken to protect yourself and your community. The same protocols used to slow the rate of transmission for the cold or flu are the same ones you'd apply to reduce or prevent the spread of the novel-coronavirus.
More updates to come.
Thank you for reading,
Reginald V. Finley, Sr. B.Sc. M.Ed., M.Sc. Ph.D. Candidate