According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 96 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 have arisen in the U.S. alone. Yet some people still say that they haven’t had COVID-19 at all, in spite of the virus's constant presence throughout the past two and a half years.
So, how have these "super-dodging" individuals avoided COVID-19 for so long? Though the research is far from firm, the scientists studying this question are coming closer and closer to their answer. As of now, they advance two main theories.
First and foremost, scientists speculate that some "super-dodgers," who say they haven’t had COVID-19, could’ve caught the virus unknowingly. Many infected individuals face mild symptoms that they confuse for a common cold. Many others face no symptoms at all — not a cough, a sore throat nor a loss of taste or smell. In fact, one study says that around 40 to 45 percent of those infected with the virus remained completely asymptomatic.
The absence of severe symptoms may make it seem that more people are avoiding COVID-19 than actually are. The only issue with this theory is that it doesn’t address any individuals who are actually dodging infections from COVID-19.
Scientists can identify these people through their antibodies. Whether their symptoms are severe, mild or not noticeable at all, any individual infected with SARS-CoV-2 — the virus behind COVID-19 — maintains a measurable amount of antibodies for some number of months after their infection fades.
According to the CDC’s most recent study results, almost 60 percent of individuals in the U.S. possess these antibodies, meaning almost 60 percent of individuals have had the virus. Compiled more than six months ago, this percent is probably much more significant today.
So, what about the others? Why aren’t they contracting COVID-19, and is it possible that they possess some sort of natural immunity to the virus? Scientists say maybe. Since the start of the pandemic, they’ve wondered whether some people possess a specific mutation in their genes that makes them resistant, if not completely immune, to SARS-CoV-2.
Though that sort of genetic mutation is rare, it is possible. Scientists know of several singular variations in genes that make people resistant to a virus. The variations typically prevent a person from properly producing the molecules that a virus needs to infect the body.
With this in mind, scientists are starting to study whether specific mutations could be making COVID-19 "super-dodgers" impervious to SARS-CoV-2 infection. Though they’ve found no such mutations as of yet, they are identifying genetic variations that protect people against COVID-19’s more serious symptoms.
For instance, one study found a singular genetic mutation could allow people to beat the virus before any signs of infection appear. With this particular mutation, anyone who has had any other type of coronavirus, including some forms of common cold, is already primed to overcome COVID-19. As a result, they may be more than eight times more likely to remain asymptomatic.
It could be coincidence whether a person who's already contracted a coronavirus also possesses this particular mutation. But the authors of this study told NPR this month that the mutation is somewhat widespread, occurring in around 1 in 10 individuals.
Ultimately, some scientists still search for mutations that ward off COVID-19 completely. And that includes the scientists involved in the ongoing COVID Human Genetic Effort. They're seeking to study anyone who’s still dodging COVID-19, despite "intense and repeated exposure." By sequencing and analyzing the genomes of these "super-dodging" individuals, they may find a specific mutation that renders some individuals completely resistant to infection.
"Our mission is to find out why and how our genes affect our immunity against coronavirus," the team says on their website. "To accomplish all of this, we need your help."