Why Coronavirus Is Making Young Americans Really Sick
Most young people infected with the virus will survive, but what’s different in the ones who won’t?
The novel coronavirus primarily afflicts the elderly, with people over 65 at a higher risk for severe disease and death: At least that was the message coming out of China and Italy, lulling people who don’t fall into that category into a false sense of complacency. But as the virus has besieged U.S. soil in recent weeks, topping 200,000 cases and over 4,500 deaths as of April 1, more and more stories have emerged of young people in critical condition and, in rare cases, even dying from Covid-19.
There’s the 30-year-old high school baseball coach in New Jersey, the 36-year-old principal in Brooklyn, a 25-year-old pharmacy technician in San Diego — all dead after testing positive for the novel coronavirus.
“It’s really important to look at those younger patients because it’s something that’s driving a lot of panic,” Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said during a media session organized by the Association of Health Care Journalists. “If you hear about an 18-year-old dying, it’s much different than hearing about an 81-year-old dying.”
Young people can get seriously sick, but deaths are rare
Anecdotes about young people dying do not make data, however, and according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. death rates in children and younger adults are actually on par with Italy, Spain, China, and South Korea. Across those four countries, there have been two deaths reported in people under the age of 20, and fatality rates range from 0.1% to 0.4% in adults between the ages of 20 and 49.
“It’s really important that we figure out what the risk factors for death are in those younger age cohorts so that we can demystify it, so it’s not a lightning bolt from heaven that struck somebody down.”