One in five people under 44 with COVID-19 experiences severe illness

March 19 (UPI) — Older adults and those with underlying health conditions remain at the highest risk for serious illness from COVID-19, but younger people often experience significant effects from the disease as well, according to new figures about the virus and its impact.

In its latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, released Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that as many as one in five Americans between 20 and 44 years of age require hospitalization after being sickened with the new coronavirus — and up to 4 percent have experienced severe enough symptoms that require admission into intensive care.

These figures are a fraction of the corresponding numbers for older adults, but they still highlight the importance of taking steps to maintain health during the pandemic, regardless of age.

“If 20-year-olds think they are invulnerable to this disease, they’re wrong,” Dr. Barry Bloom, a research professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday, describing the CDC data as “troubling.”

He added, “We have had 20-year-olds die from this disease, in China and Italy and elsewhere.”

Having said that, Bloom and other experts noted the CDC numbers might be skewed a bit by the more relaxed criteria for hospital admissions used in the United States, when compared with those in other countries that have had larger outbreaks, like China, South Korea and Italy.

Dr. Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar in the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told UPI that, as a result, hospital admissions might not be an accurate indicator of severe disease.

Although the figures on confirmed cases, disease severity and death with COVID-19 change hourly, it’s clear that the virus is highly contagious, which is why experts warn that younger people must also take precautions to limit transmission to people more vulnerable to serious illness. Indeed, as troubling as the hospitalization and fatality rates are for younger adults — up to 2 percent — they are much higher for seniors.

According to the new figures from CDC, up to 70 percent of those 85 years of age and older infected with the virus require hospitalization, and nearly 30 percent of them die from it. Nearly 60 percent of adults between 75 and 84 years of age may also require hospitalization if they are sickened, and up to 10 percent of them may die.

These numbers drop for younger age groups, but even children, adolescents and teens need to be wary. According to the CDC, up to 2.5 percent of Americans between 0 and 19 years of age sickened with COVID-19 have required hospitalization, although none have been admitted to intensive care or died from the disease.

A small study out of Wuhan, China, also published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that of 171 children 16 years of age and younger diagnosed with the virus — all of whom were hospitalized — three required intensive care support and invasive mechanical ventilation. An one died: a 10-month-old infant with an intestinal blockage who experienced multi-organ failure and succumbed four weeks after admission to the hospital.

In all, according to figures from the Chinese Center for Disease Control, roughly 1 percent of all confirmed cases in the country where the COVID-19 pandemic began involve children 10 years of age and younger.

“The MMWR report was useful for confirming what we already know about the risk for serious illness among younger people,” Rivers said. “Even though your risk overall is lower, if you are a young person and you get sick and and experience mild illness, you may come in contact with someone more vulnerable to severe disease and make them very sick. So, we all need to be thinking about that and protecting those around us.”

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