More than 3,700 Americans have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and at least 69 have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and CBS News. However, U.S. health officials say a relatively small percentage of children have tested positive for COVID-19 and those who have it tend to show milder symptoms. No child deaths have yet been reported.
By comparison, 36 million Americans have gotten the flu this season and about 22,000 have died. Children have been more vulnerable than years past with 144 pediatric deaths reported, according to the latest statistics from the CDC. Eight more child deaths were reported this week.
The figures underline a recent trend — while COVID-19 has largely spared children since its December outbreak in China, the flu has proven particularly devastating for kids in America this season. (In older people, however, coronavirus is much deadlier than the flu.)
The CDC’s most recent flu report says that as of March 7, hospitalization rates among children aged 4 and under were the highest on record at this point in the season, surpassing rates reported during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The 144 children’s deaths also mark the highest on record since the 2009 season.
CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula said one reason that child deaths are high is because earlier in the season the predominant strain was influenza B, which tends to affect children more adversely. However, in its latest flu report, the CDC said that has changed as the season went on and influenza A viruses “are now the most commonly reported.”
Overall, the CDC estimates about 370,000 people have been hospitalized because of the flu this season. The center added that hospitalization rates for adults aged 18-49 and for school-aged children (5-17 years) are also higher than any recent regular season.
The CDC noted that the largest spikes in influenza-like illnesses occurred in areas of the country where the coronavirus is most prevalent. “More people may be seeking care for respiratory illness than usual at this time,” the center added.
While the flu continues to take a deadly toll on U.S. children, evidence shows that kids do not appear to be at higher risk for the novel coronavirus than adults, the CDC says, and adults make up most of the known cases to date.
Children managed to avoid the most devastating effects of previous outbreaks of other coronaviruses as well. According to the CDC, the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak killed 774 people, but no children. It also reported that “death was rare among children” during the MERS outbreak, which has killed more than 850 people since 2012.
The World Health Organization reported that in China, only 2.4% of reported COVID-19 cases were people 18 and younger. “Disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild,” WHO researchers wrote.
Scientists are not sure why children seem to be largely immune from the coronavirus. Dr. Evelyn Montalvo Stanton, chair of pediatrics at the UNLV School of Medicine, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it’s possible children “develop antibodies from other viruses, that their bodies already are at a heightened immune state.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says that so far, evidence shows even if children contract the novel coronavirus, they do not seem to get very sick. However, Fauci told “Face The Nation” on Sunday that kids could still be spreading the disease.
“If a young individual, a child, gets infected, they may do perfectly well from a physical standpoint,” he said, “but they may bring it home to a person who is susceptible.”
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