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Thousands of Finns to get health warning of disease inherited from 17th century

Staff writer |
At least three thousand Finns are expected to get a letter this year warning them of a disease they may have inherited from a 17th century forefather.

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The staff at the parish registry in Viitasaari, a municipality in central Finland, are currently engaged in a labour intensive task of identifying the descendants of a man who lived 400 years ago.

Finnish national broadcaster Yle said on Monday the researchers at the Hospital of Helsinki University have found out that the man was the source of a hereditary gene mutation that could cause sudden deaths at young age.

When reached, those alive will be contacted and treated, if necessary, reported Yle.

To find their current addresses is not a problem. Finland boasts a church based population registry dating partially back to 1650s, with births, marriages and deaths recorded. Although the task is not insurmountable, it will take the parish employees at least half a year, said Yle.

The current national population registry system only dates back to early 1970s and before that the churches kept the registries. The inherited disease is known as catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT). In 1990s, the researchers at the Hospital of Helsinki University were the first in the world to identify this gene mutation.

Clinically, the problem is that proteins releasing calcium ions in the heart cells function abnormally and will affect heart rhythms. Among the people who have this mutated gene, sudden deaths have occurred over generations.

Cardiologist Heikki Swan told Yle news service that typically a pupil may die suddenly during gymnastics hour. And in one case, a child died when rehearsing a play, being nervous on the stage.

The hospital has been able to ascertain three clusters of relatives with the gene and they are all descendants of the man who lived in the village in central Finland in 1600s.

Not all carriers of the gene get symptoms, but some may die with the first symptoms while others may only experience a moment of unconsciousness.

When found, the descendants will be screened with a blood test and those carrying the gene can be given prophylactic medication. Currently only 150 carriers are recognized but the number is expected to multiply, according to the Yle report.

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