(WellnessPursuits.com) – When it comes to the novel coronavirus and its associated disease, COVID-19, nobody is at a zero risk. People from every age range and every demographic are at some risk with this pathogen, but it does affect age groups differently. There are still many things we don’t know about this new virus, but scientists do have some theories as to why young children react differently than their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.
Asymptomatic vs. Severe Symptoms: Who’s Most at Risk?
Based on data from the CDC, China, South Korea, Spain and Italy, we do know that up to 20% of those infected with the virus are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. They either don’t show any symptoms at all, or they do not initially show any symptoms. Even when people don’t show symptoms while infected, they can still transmit the virus to others.
Those at the greatest risk of developing severe symptoms, requiring hospitalization and potentially needing intensive care, generally have pre-existing conditions like chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune disease.
Underlying conditions can exist in people of all ages, so it’s important to judge your risk by your health and not your age.
Which Ages Are Most Affected?
Data show that while kids age 10 and under seem to have mild to no symptoms. Infants (under the age of one) appear to be more vulnerable to the virus. As children become tweens, teens and age into adults, they appear to become more affected by the virus.
This novel coronavirus has been less deadly to toddlers and adolescents, who have not completed the development of their immune systems than it has been to those in their 20s and 30s. This virus follows the pattern of being more dangerous with age, with people 85 years old and older accounting for 10.5% of all deaths. Why? Because more people of advanced age generally account for having more underlying conditions than those who are younger.
Why Is Age a Factor?
In general, we sustain damage at the cellular level as we age, impairing our inherent immune systems. Lifestyle choices can cause further damage for some, causing some of the pre-existing conditions that make the virus even more dangerous.
Age in itself is not the danger. It’s the condition of the person’s immune system and their overall ability to handle any threat from a pathogen that determines the outcome… whether it’s a common cold, flu or the coronavirus.
There are several theories about why the virus affects age groups differently. So far, these theories include:
- Adaptive Immunity. According to this theory, children are constantly exposed to new pathogens in school, allowing their immune systems to be active, adapting to and handling new viruses. This allows their active immune systems to deal with the virus without becoming overwhelmed.
- Unreceptive Cells. Another theory is that because children have very little cell damage, they may not have developed as many Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme II (ACE2) receptors — a type of protein on the surface of our cells which allows the coronavirus to invade the cell and begin to self-replicate. The few ACE2 receptors they do have tend to be in their upper respiratory tract, so the virus presents in the form of cold-like symptoms, rather than causing pneumonia. Their symptoms, if they display any, remain mild.
- Immature Immune System. This theory postulates that because children’s immune systems are not mature, they don’t mount an immune response as strong as adults. This allows them to bypass the overproduction of cytokines, or the “cytokine storm,” that has seemed to be a key feature in the illnesses of those who have become critically ill.
- Infants’ immune systems don’t seem developed enough to effectively fight off the coronavirus well, and they are at greater risk under the age of 1. Older kids, between the ages of 10 and 17, still seem to have some of the advantages of childhood but at a slightly lower rate. More symptoms become evident because their immune systems become more mature and mount a greater response.
Although there is not yet a complete understanding as to why there is a disparity in how people of different ages react to the novel coronavirus, but new research and information are coming out each week. Check back with us for updates on this fast-moving health issue. Regardless of your age, you can reduce your risks by following social distancing protocols, washing your hands regularly, eating well, exercising, destressing and getting adequate rest.
~Here’s to Your Healthy Pursuits!
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