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Liver Disease And COVID-19: Why Hispanics Might Be Particularly At Risk

Community Regional Medical Center

As the COVID-19 caseload climbs, it’s becoming clear that some groups are more at risk than others. Early research out of the Fresno region shows one family of diseases may make Hispanics particularly vulnerable.

The family is liver diseases. Dr. Marina Roytman, a liver specialist at UCSF Fresno and Community Regional Medical Center, says people with liver conditions generally can’t handle the disease as well as others. “Clearly…we are seeing the correlation that underlying liver disease is predictive of a more severe COVID course,” she says.

In the U.S., Hispanics appear to be more genetically predisposed than other ethnic groups to one liver ailment in particular: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is marked by a buildup of fat in the liver and can progress to more serious conditions like cirrhosis and liver failure.

Roytman is studying outcomes among hundreds of COVID patients alongside researchers across the country. “Certainly in our cohort of data, we see a huge predominance of Hispanics that have been diagnosed with liver disease and COVID,” she says, though she cautions that her results are preliminary and unpublished. “It would be interesting to see what it’s like in the larger cohort of patients. We’re still exploring that data.”

In Fresno County, the majority of people who died from the disease as of May were Hispanic.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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