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FACT CHECK: Is there an ‘AA sickness’ during harmattan?

FACT CHECK: Is there an ‘AA sickness’ during harmattan?
January 06
14:09 2022

If you are an avid user of social media in Nigeria, you may have come across a few posts about people with the AA genotype falling ill during harmattan.

First, let’s take a quick 15 seconds biology class to explain what a genotype is. A genotype is an individual’s collection of genes inherited from parents, and it is mainly divided into four categories. They are AA, AS, SS and AC.

The narrative circulating on social media claims those who have the AA genotype fall ill during harmattan seasons — a season in West Africa between November and March characterised by dryness, dusty winds and cold weather.

According to the social media posts, some of the symptoms exhibited by persons who came down with the purported “AA sickness” include fever, sore throat, catarrh, headache and body pains.

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These are some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19.

The notion has been widely shared on social media with many confidently attributing their sicknesses during the season to their AA genotype.

Oke Umurhohwo, a Twitter user, said, “There is a flu like sickness spreading currently. Symptoms includes Headache, Catarrh, Cold and slight Fever. We really need to be careful.

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“Funny thing is that it affects mostly AA people. It can be cured by malaria drugs, so I am sure it’s not COVID.”

Another Twitter user said, “Omo, I used to think being AA was a good thing… Which one come be sickness subscription like this🤮🤒🥶.

“Dear AA, how is Cold and Malaria treating you?” another user asked.

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Some Facebook users also spoke about the supposed AA sickness.

Bamidele Azeez wrote on a Facebook page about his experience with the “AA sickness”.

“AA genotype is Overrated,” he said.

“Right now I’m suffering from cold, catarrh, fever, malaria and other orishi rishi symptoms since harmattan started.

“They made us understand that we have the strongest blood, so strong that It can combat any form of sickness. But seems we’ve been Scammed.”

Azeez’s post has generated over 155 reactions and 43 comments. Some of the commenters agreed to his claim.

Another Facebook user wrote,  “This sudden sickness affecting only people with AA.”

The post garnered over 60 reactions and 29 comments, with users claiming of contracting the “sickness”.

BUT IS THERE REALLY AN AA SICKNESS?

Studies have shown that those with the AA genotype are more susceptible to malaria.

One study involving 372 children at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital found that “children with genotype AA (92.3%) were more susceptible to malaria parasite than AS (5.1%) and SS (2.6%)”.

The study said the association of haemoglobin genotype with malaria was highly significant.

But is there an AA sickness that comes with the harmattan?

Bankole Olusegun, a family medicine practitioner, told TheCable that there is nothing like an AA sickness during the season, describing the viral claim on social media as “misconception and misinformation”.

“The S gene is like an evolutionary process that prevents people from coming down with malaria. They do, but not all the time. People with the AA genotype are more prone to get malaria than people who have AS. But the fact that AA people are more prone to malaria does not mean there’s an AA sickness,” he said.

“It’s not only people with the AA genotype that have fallen sick. I have people with the AS genotype that have come down with cold, catarrh and cough. It’s the dry season and cold season. There are a lot of flu viruses around.

“We also have the COVID-19 pandemic. Very few people go for a COVID test. It may be the COVID-19 that is manifesting and it may just be the regular flu we see around the harmattan period.”

On his part, Bayo Onajole, an epidemiologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said what is most common are symptoms associated with the dryness that occurs in the harmattan season.

He explained that there is no linkage between the flu-like symptoms experienced during harmattan season and the genotype. 

“I’m not aware of any research about the AA genotype being more predisposed to illness. The only research that has been done is that of malaria due to the fact that the AA genotype are more predisposed to malaria,” Onajole said.

“These symptoms are non-specific. Unless you conduct a COVID-19 test, you can’t actually say that they’re just common flu. It may be as a result of COVID-19.

“But because most of these symptoms are mild, many people will not bother to do a COVID-19 test.”

He advised Nigerians to maintain the hygienic procedure of washing of hands and using face masks, saying those who come down with the “AA sickness” symptoms should seek medical help.

VERDICT: There is no scientific evidence to back up the claim of an “AA sickness” during harmattan.



This story is published in partnership with Report for the World, a global service program that supports local public interest journalism.

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