Fewer than 499 Americans under age 18 have died from covid since February 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and researchers want to know why.
Respiratory diseases typically hit the young and the old hard, and children are often very vulnerable to infectious diseases. Yet covid-19 was more like the flu, which killed far more adults last winter — an estimated 24,000 to 62,000 people — compared to 188 people age 17 and younger.
Health care officials recognized early in the outbreak that children were much less likely than adults to become infected with the virus, show symptoms, require hospitalization, or die of covid-19.
Compared to other age groups, people under 18 are also at much lower risk of serious illness from covid-19.
The death rate for Americans under 18 who are infected is about 0.01 percent, compared to 5 percent for 65- to 74-year-olds, 12 percent for 75- to 84-year-olds and 25 percent for people 85 and older. In total, people 50 and older make up 94 percent of covid-19 deaths in the U.S. based on federal data.
The risk of covid-19 deaths is even lower for children under 10, according to CDC data. Infants under 1 year old might be at higher risk than slightly older children due to their immature immune systems.
Compared to other causes of death in children, covid-19 is far less a threat. It killed 280 children under age 18 from January to September, the period in which the alpha and delta variants were active.
Flu and pneumonia, heart disease, drowning, guns, and motor vehicles were all deadlier to children during the same period annually from 2015 to 2019 according to CDC.
The CDC reported in September 2020 that there was a high burden among children with underlying health conditions such as asthma, neurologic and cardiovascular conditions. A high percentage of deaths occurred in Black and Hispanic people than whites.
“We’ve known from the beginning that covid is relatively mild in children compared to adults, and especially older adults,” said Shamez Ladhani, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at St. George’s hospital in London in a Vox report.
Covid-19, which has claimed 737,589 lives in the U.S. and 4,884,243 lives globally, spares children in a dramatic way, according to Larry Steinman, a professor of pediatrics and neurology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Steinman led a team that reviewed why children may have some natural protection.
Children also appear to transmit the coronavirus less than adults, according to Ladhani.
A possible explanation is that kids are less likely to develop symptoms than older groups, or experience symptoms for shorter periods. Therefore, the virus is less likely to spread if it is not being coughed or sneezed out.
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