The COVID-19 pandemic has more people researching their family health history

Posted at 8:06 AM, Sep 17, 2020

The pandemic has more people wanting to learn more about their medical history. Several services can already track relatives and piece together a family tree. But now, you can do the same for your health.

In her radio show and podcast "Passport Mommy," Michelle Jerson talks about all things motherhood.

"We cover everything that parents are going through," Jerson said.

Jerson said she chose that name because she says motherhood is a journey. These days though, Jerson is on her own personal journey — wanting to know everything she can about her family health.

"As a new mom, I want to pass that information on to my children," Jerson said. "I want them to be educated. I want them to have as much knowledge as they can have so they can make informed decisions. So, when they go to the doctor's office, and they ask those first few questions about family history, they're not saying, 'I'm not sure.'"

But she says it's even more complicated than that.

"My mom was adopted, and she never found out who her biological father was and just recently found out who her biological mother is," Jerson said. "She did get some limited information health-wise, but for me, it's very important for us to find out as much as we can about our family history and our health."

Jerson heard about a new test from Ancestry — one of the leading genealogy services — that provides a DNA analysis of a user's health. Jerson sent off the saliva sample test and is awaiting results.

Dr. Sarah South, the Vice President of Ancestry Health, says scientists look at DNA to see if a person is more at risk for common inherited conditions — things like cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol or blood disorders.

"This isn't just information about something that might happen. This is information about what might happen but also how to prevent it," South said.

There's still a lot to learn about this kind of science, but South says finding out health information can be both empowering and reassuring — especially now.

South says that during the pandemic, they've been getting a lot more interest.

"Certainly, this pandemic has just heightened people's awareness of taking preventive action," South said. "So, it's absolutely top of mind for a lot of individuals who now recognize that taking care of preventative and taking care of their health, being in that driver seat. This is the right time for it, and the technology is clear."

South says that regardless of what a person may or not learn from the test that it's still important to get regular health screenings. After receiving results, people should discuss what they discover with their doctors and make sure they follow up with preventative care — and remember that not every disease is linked to genetics.

South also says that moms are usually the health care managers within families, as they tend to have the most interest. With that in mind, Jerson says she's taking the time to learn more about her own lineage.

"It's really empowering to know that we have a way to do this and that, yes, there are still states that have the adoption records locked and sealed so you can't even get access to them," Jerson said. "So, any way that you can do (research) on your own, I think is great."

Whatever her test results yield, it's just the beginning of a larger mystery that could hopefully open a lot of doors.