Every parent’s heart breaks for families with young children affected by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak that has infected nearly 30,000 people globally and killed more than 600 people. And scientists are still learning about the new strain of coronavirus, which was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
One key finding was there were no 2019-nCoV cases among children younger than 15 years old based on recorded cases from December to January 22, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Another report published in JAMA showed most of the documented cases until January 25 were adults with a median age range of 49 and 56. (Median age is the middle number across all ages of reported patients.)
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) does not disclose the ages of those infected, two newborns were already reported to be positive for the virus. (Read more here.) News reports also said a 9-month-old girl in Beijing, a 1-month old in Guizhou, an 11-month old baby in Guangdong (who has recovered), and an 8-year-old from Wuhan who is currently in Australia tested positive coronavirus. A child in Germany reportedly has coronavirus and caught it from his or her father. Singapore recently confirmed a 6-month-old baby boy has the novel coronavirus.
When you think, however, of the total number of 2019-nCoV cases gobally, this coronavirus has mostly spared kids, as a report by The New York Times pointed out.
Doctors suspect that when children do get infected with the 2019-nCoV, “they get the relatively milder disease,” Dr. Malik Peiris, the chief of virology at the University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times.
Among infected families, only the adults showed typical symptoms such as fever, sore throat, and diarrhea, even if all of them, including the kids, had pneumonia.
There were also several cases of children testing positive for the virus but without the symptoms. Such is a case of a child in Shenzhen who tested positive for the virus but didn’t show any symptoms.
Fewer children got infected with SARS and MERS, too
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are also coronaviruses that had the same pattern. SARS recorded 135 cases of children out of more than 8,000, and no child died. Most kids infected with MERS never developed symptoms.
It is possible that adults are more susceptible to the diseases because the immune system deteriorates with age. (Chickenpox is another illness that infects adults more severely.) They are also more likely to have existing conditions such as diabetes and heart issues that weaken their body’s defenses.
Influenza, on the other hand, has stricken children year in and year out. Children younger than 5 are at high risk of developing serious complications such as pneumonia and respiratory and kidney failure from the influenza virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Experts have yet to determine if kids who show milder or no symptoms can infect others
Another reason there are fewer cases of the novel coronavirus in kids is because caregivers and parents in China, where almost 98% of the 2019-nCoV cases are recorded, may have taken extra precautionary protection.
"It's much easier to tell adults to practice good common-sense behaviors. If kids are sick, they still want to go snuggle with mommy or play with their siblings," Aaron Milstone, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider.
The novel coronavirus is spread from person-to-person through direct close contact. There are also indications that it can be spread through the fecal-oral route or from mother-to-baby. Experts also still need to confirm if asymptomatic patients can infect others.
Practicing proper hygiene, handwashing, covering the mouth, refraining from touching each other, and avoiding surfaces that may be infected, are the best ways to prevent infection. Isolation and seeking early treatment are also key if one gets infected. Having kids vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia also helps.
For more updates on the novel coronavirus, clikc here.