Does Ebola affect people who are Rh-negative?

The Rh-negative Immunity Theory
Some of us obviously have stronger immune systems than others, but one specific blood type does not give you immunity.
Some of us obviously have stronger immune systems than others, but one specific blood type does not give you immunity.
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Among some people, there is a certain mystique associated with having Rh-negative blood. Some even think that because they don't have that Rh (or rhesus) factor, they may have a cosmic origin. They believe that Rh-negative people possess higher IQs and are more "in tune" with the universe. They also point to the Rh incompatibility factor that can cause a mother's body to reject a fetus. They state more Rh-negative people experience alien abduction. Some of the so-called "Rh bloodline" even believe they may be descended from a crossover of human and alien species millions of years ago. This mindset led to the theory that those with Rh-negative blood may be immune to viruses like Ebola.

Stick with us here.

These theories may come from the misinterpretation of a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine. In our immune system, the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) set of genes helps defend our body against viruses and other invaders. The Stanford study, led by Dr. Peter Parham, states that after the ancestors of modern humans began migrating out of Africa around 65,000 years ago, they bred with other ancient peoples such as Neanderthals and Denisovans. This ultimately built up some specific variants of HLA antigens that gave their immune systems a boost. But those whose ancestors stayed in Africa didn't get this advantage [sources: Abi-Rached et al., Choi].

Some believe that the deadliest viruses come from and remain contained in Africa because residents do not have the genetic ability to fight or defend against them. But this is a very loose correlation. The Rh-negative factor comes into play because very few people of African descent have Rh-negative blood. The claim is that this is because our ancestors who migrated out of Africa developed Rh-negative blood as a result of their interbreeding with other ancient groups. Proponents of the Rh-negative gene theory call this "a gift from our Neanderthal ancestors and God," because they believe that Rh-negative individuals have a way to fight viral infection [source: Rh Negative Blood Type Secrets].

Just about every website touting the connection between Rh-negative blood and the ability to fight deadly viruses includes the following paragraph:

According to Randall Johnson at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, "Only 7% of the U.S. population tests positive for the HLA-B27 gene; this gene, found only in persons with Rh-Negative blood, can trigger the immune system to operate overtime at WARP SPEED in times of medical emergency."

However, although our research turned up a Dr. Randy Johnson at the Baylor College of Medicine, there's no evidence of him making these statements. And even if Johnson did make this statement, it doesn't mean that this gene makes a person immune to any deadly or serious virus.

And there's more. Many point to the fact that because they are Rh-negative and therefore don't have rhesus, or "monkey," blood — their words, not ours —they are naturally immune to a virus like Ebola because it's carried by monkeys. The hole in this theory is that fruit bats, porcupines and other animals also carry Ebola.

Our take? According to science, nobody is naturally immune to anything. Some of us obviously have stronger immune systems than others, thanks to genetics or autoimmune disease. But generalized statements that one specific blood type gives you immunity? We're going to go with "no" on this one.

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  • Abi-Rached, Laurent et al. "The Shaping of Modern Human Immune Systems by Multiregional Admixture with Archaic Humans." Science. Vol. 334, No. 6052. Aug. 25, 2011. (Nov. 29, 2014)
  • Choi, Charles Q. "Sex with Neanderthals Gave Humans Immunity Boost." Live Science. Aug. 25, 2011. (Nov. 29, 2014)
  • Kitt, Khameeka. "Blood Types." The Tech. Oct. 20, 2010. (Sep. 20, 2014)
  • Penn State Hershey, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "Blood Group (Rh) Incompatibility." Dec. 9, 2012. (July 23, 2015)
  • Rettner, Rachael. "How Do People Survive Ebola?" Live Science. Aug. 5, 2014. (Nov. 29, 2014)
  • Rh Negative Blood Type Secrets. "Are you from the most ancient bloodline?" Jan. 5, 2013. (Sept. 20, 2014)
  • TeensHealth. "Blood Types." June 2014. (Sep. 20, 2014)

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