top of page

Gigi Tevzadze. Haplogeography of COVID-19: A hypothesis

There is a discussion ongoing about the geographical spread of COVID-19 around the globe. Certain assumptions claim that relatively lower impact upon the southern hemisphere countries can be attributed to the high temperature there (austral summer).

There is also another hypothesis that the compulsory TB vaccination in the USSR and some other countries acts now as a protective and mitigating factor, which is why those over 40 years old from the former USSR do not get the virus easily. However, it is doubtful that the vaccine still works effectively after 20-30 and more years.

There is still another idea that a combination of several drugs - including malaria / anti-fever medicals - can cure the virus.

In my opinion, all of the above ways can work to some extent. I do not think there can be only one cause for the uneven spread of the pandemic. I would like to offer my own version of “uneven spreading”, based on data that are universally available.

The spread map of the virus in today's eastern hemisphere is as follows:

The Western Hemisphere looks like this:

The emerging picture of the spread from Eurasia to the Western Hemisphere can be explained by the uneven intensity of contacts being especially concentrated on the US East Coast and much less intensive contacts between Eurasia and South America.

Low frequency of cases in tropical Africa and Asia can be explained by higher temperatures these, while the explosion in South Africa (128 cases out of 5000Afrcia) might be attributed to intensive contacts with the Chinese. Certainly, there might be other causes too, as we will see shortly.

But how can one explain the uneven spread of the virus across the Eurasian continent?

To me, a striking pattern emerged in Italy: the explanation that a lot of Chinese live and work in Bergamo and that there were a number of tourists might be acceptable. But, why does the prevalence of infections decline so clearly towards the South?

Relatively small numbers of cases in Georgia (103 cases, 0 deaths), as well as Armenia (424 cases, 3 deaths) and Azerbaijan (209 cases, 4 deaths) also require explanation.

The most accepted view is that timely measures and a highly professional approach from Georgia’s doctors prevented many cases from spreading over Georgia. Yet, I do not believe in the effectiveness of border closures, especially since we know that there were cases of uncontrolled entry. Moreover, in the early days of the pandemic the border was not as controlled as it is now. Also, Georgia did not lack Chinese labour force in the construction of the railway lines, nor the goods from Chinese industry.

Also, despite gloomy forecasts, there are very few cases in Afghanistan (120 cases, 4 deaths), while in its neighboring Pakistan - more than 1500 cases and 14 deaths. For sure, the warfare condition and differences of the overall situation in these two countries should be taken into consideration.

As I have written above, high temperatures and TB vaccination may explain some differences in pandemic results, but not entirely: e.g., it does not explain the situation in Russia (the information from Russia is contradictory, but we know for sure that quarantine measures are tightened daily) or in Belarus. The situation in Sweden, Iceland is also different, etc.

And, nevertheless, the big picture, where Georgia has 0 deaths, Armenia and Azerbaijan 3 and 4 deaths, Afghanistan with 4 deaths and 120 cases, and all these counties are arranged around Iran with 38,000 cases and 2600 deaths (or, perhaps more), looks exceptionally interesting.

So, is there any other difference between these countries / peoples that could cause such an uneven effect of the pandemic?

The difference does exist, and this seems to be possession of the G haplogroup (haplogroups are groups of genetic population of individuals, who share a common ancestor along the line of the mother or father. The G haplogroup is the Y chromosome haplogroup), which can be seen on a map:

As you can see, the distribution map of the G haplogroup roughly coincides with nowadays pandemic’s so called ”non-severe cases”. However, we should take into consideration that this map is inaccurate, since data for genetic research is not as representative as in the household surveys, and secondly – haplogroup cannot be discussed as a source of immunities of a group of people.

According to current data, the highest concentration of G haplogroup at the country level is in Georgia (30-40%) and at the level of ethnic and sub-national groups - in the western part of Georgia and also in the northwestern Caucasus. In Armenia - 11%, in Azerbaijan - 18%. In Afghanistan - Hazaras have a very high percentage, while in their neighborhood - Pakistan - up to 3%.

Such an angle gives us some interesting information about Italy: In the north of Italy the share of G haplogroup is up to 3%, while in the south it reaches 10%.

However, once again It should be emphasized that the data for contemporary “genetic maps” does not meet statistical standards and therefore we can only hypothesize with extraordinary caution based on existing patterns and other estimates.

But it is very conceivable to assume that for G haplogroup individuals who have lived within the region for 26,000 years, and by some versions, even originated in this region, the COVID-19 isn't the first epidemic they experienced. Rather like nowadays, epidemics could spread from China during these 26,000 long years - the central Caucasus provided to the most intensively used roads to the West. According to one version, the black plague (bacterial, not viral, but still) that murdered 25 million Europeans in 1346-1352, came to Europe through the North China - Central Caucasus - Black Sea route. Hence, it is additionally conceivable that G-group carries particular “immunity” that effectively checks the spread of such illnesses. It is also possible that this resistance to infectious diseases made G-group the prevalent haplotype within the central Caucasus (i.e., other haplogroup individuals have been killed by plagues). This is plausible as western Georgian populations are known for their resistance to malaria and swamp flu.

This speculation gets curious support from the history of the 1918-1919 Spanish flu in Georgia: As sources show (inaccurate, but still), the Spanish flu in Georgia was much milder than in the United States, Europe or even in India. Actually, there is exceptionally little amount of oral history among Georgians nowadays on the passings of family members through the Spanish flu.

Map of the distribution of the G haplotype 26,000 years ago. According to some scholars, it originated in the present-day territory of Georgia, but all scholars point its origin in the middle of the North Caucasus and Anatolia.

Therefore, while testing this hypothesis will require intensive research, we might expect that the regions with high frequency of G haplogroup will suffer less from the pandemic as compared to other regions.

Now let's take another step and see at the outline of the dispersion of distinctive haplogroups around the world:

Admittedly, the presented map is very general and does not show the spread of haplogroups in detail. However, at first glance the grave situations caused by the pandemic almost perfectly coincides with the spread of the haplogroups: the impacts are heavy where the R1b haplogroup prevails (Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, Canada ...). Among such regions, where it is not yet grave, we might expect that it will become so, this might be a question of time. In Mongolia and Kazakhstan the situation does not look grave, similar to Georgia and the parts of the North Caucasus. Japan ought to have a different picture than the rest of the world, and we ought to anticipate a different kind of spread in Africa. Clearly, the big picture will be modified by climatic difference and numerous other conceivable socio-biological components. Still, the observed pattern of haplogroup distribution might explain why rates of pandemic spread is different in Belarus and other Slavonic and non-Slavonic countries. Let me say it again, this is only an assumption.

I am not insisting that this is the only cause of the uneven spread of the COVID-19, but I think it provides a better explanation than the story of „far-seeing/not-far-seeing governments” advertised today.

To say it again, haplogroups are a helpful way of classification, whilst the presence of some antiviral resistance can be effectively explained by nearness to China as to the historical and prehistoric homeland of pandemics, and by the particular past of particular people.

I don't know how persuasive this view might be, or if it will be lost in the plethora of other hypotheses such as the tuberculosis vaccination one. However, in case new empirical data will support my hypothesis, I hope that it will considerably improve our vision of the pandemic.

About this - in continuation.



bottom of page