Why Babies Are More Resilient Against Covid-19

Understanding infants’ peculiar response to the virus may be a key to finding new treatments

Mariana Lenharo
Elemental
Published in
6 min readSep 28, 2020

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Photo: Sirapat Saeyang/EyeEm/Getty Images

Babies make up a tiny percentage of all diagnosed cases of Covid-19. In the United States, where 1.2% of the population are children under one year of age, they account for only 0.27% of the positive tests, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. It’s not clear if babies are getting infected at a lower rate compared with other age groups or if they are just not being tested as much. But what is evident is that the ones who are diagnosed have, in general, significantly milder illness compared with adults.

The reason behind babies’ apparent resilience to Covid-19 is being intensely investigated by scientists. Getting to the bottom of that mystery could inspire the development of new treatments, potentially benefiting people of all ages.

What’s known so far about the outcomes of babies infected with SARS-CoV-2 comes from reports such as the one published in this month’s edition of The Journal of Pediatrics by physicians at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. The study, which included 18 previously healthy children under 90 days old who tested positive for Covid-19, showed that none had severe symptoms. Nasal congestion was seen in 28%, cough in 44%, and vomiting or diarrhea in 22%. The study sample is very small (again, the number of infants who test positive is a low figure overall), but the researchers say the early findings provide some potentially important insights.

“It’s notable that a large percentage of them had fever as maybe even the only symptom,” says lead author Leena B. Mithal, MD, a pediatric infectious diseases expert from Lurie Children’s and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “None of the babies required any oxygen or any respiratory support at all,” she adds. “This is a small series, but what we saw during that period has remained true moving…

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Mariana Lenharo
Elemental

Science and health journalist with a special interest in evidence-based medicine and epidemics. Columbia Journalism School alumna. mari.lenharo@gmail.com.