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Cousins Having Children Together Could Cause Disease Epidemic

Posted Mar 18 2009 3:55pm

A new report has revealed that children born to parents whom are first or second cousins to each other, have a higher chance of catching an infectious disease.

In the study it was discovered that cousins who breed together were unknowingly creating a damaged genetic blueprint within their children, which has the potential to spread rapidly throughout society, causing an epidemic.

This could have a knock on effect for emergency vaccination programmes and protocols to deal with epidemics due to the fact disease has a higher chance of affecting the offspring of cousins before it hits others.

This increased risk for children from consanguineous relationships could result in them picking up infectious diseases more easily before passing it on to others.

Metaphorically speaking, the higher susceptibility of these children was compared to the way a few concealed fallen leaves could result in the rapid spread of a forest fire, which would have otherwise been stopped in its tracks.

In some sections of society and different ethnic groups like Muslims living in The Gambia, it is common for second cousins to marry.

In the UK however, although it is thought to be less common, the actual number of marriages between first and second cousins is unclear. Numbers are expected to be higher in immigrant groups who have found it harder to completely integrate into society.

William Amos, of the University of Cambridge, who led the study, said, “Wherever these consanguineous marriages occur the offspring will experience an increase in susceptibility to disease.

“It is a concern. A disease that might not otherwise take off might gain a foothold and spread. If you imagine an epidemic coming into a population. . . you probably need an unusually weak individual to get started. As soon as they get the disease the whole thing starts up.

“This is the first time we’ve shown it impacts. It’s going to help to accelerate the whole process of disease spread.”

Amos added that further research was underway to unravel exactly how this link worked, in order for the children of cousins to be put forward as a priority group to access emergency vaccination programmes, in order to halt the spread of diseases like flu or bird flu.

However, to take this sort of action would result in an “almost insurmountable ethnic” problem due to the high probability of varying racial groups being unequally affected.

The results of the report which was published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, revealed that in The Gambia there was an increased number of people affected by tuberculosis and hepatitis B, whereas in Italy, where there are very few second-cousin marriages, no obvious link was found.

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