Editor’s Note: This story was published before the World Health Organization declared novel coronavirus a pandemic and Canada’s chief health officer labelled the virus a “serious public health threat.” For the latest coronavirus news, click here.
Even though it has spread to more than 20 countries, new research suggests that children have been largely spared by the virus.
A new report published in JAMA Network on Wednesday said that coronavirus cases in children “have been rare” and the median age of patients is between 49 and 56 years of age.
“Although most cases appear to be mild, all patients admitted to the hospital have pneumonia with infiltrates on chest x-ray and ground glass opacities on chest computed tomography,” authors of the paper wrote.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, the paper’s lead author, says at this point, why children seem to be less affected is “all speculative.”
“We know that pediatric cases (individuals under the age of 15) are rare, but I know they are not unheard of,” he told Global News.
The doctor added that in general, infections that affect the lungs, like pneumonia and the flu, tend to be more severe in older adults, as well as those with chronic conditions, in particular pulmonary problems.
The virus may not be affecting children the same way as adults because kids may experience a milder disease, doctors told the New York Times. Infected children may also not exhibit symptoms.
“It’s certainly true that children can be either asymptomatically infected or have very mild infection,” Dr. Raina MacIntyre, an epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales, told the Times.
Another recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 425 patients with the coronavirus and found no cases in children under the age of 15. The median age of those infected was 59 years old.
Researchers wrote that children might be less likely to become infected or, if they are infected, show milder symptoms.
Either of these situations, researchers said, “would account for underrepresentation in the confirmed case count.”
Dr. Mark Denison, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Time that kids may also be less susceptible to the coronavirus than adults due to biology.
“Evolutionarily, we’re designed to be exposed to these things as kids, and then we have broad-based immunity,” he told the outlet. “Get it now while you’re more likely to survive, and then you won’t get it later.”
Symptoms of the new coronavirus are also common symptoms of influenza and include fever, headache, runny nose, coughing and difficulty breathing.
In extremely serious cases — especially in those with weakened immune systems — the virus can cause pneumonia, bronchitis, kidney failure and death.
In Canada, health experts say the risk of the coronavirus is low, but encourage people to engage in good hand washing practices.
Dr. Susy Hota, an associate professor with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, previously told Global News that to avoid transmitting the virus, people should wash their hands often — especially after using public transit or grocery shopping.
“Lots of people touch things, and you don’t know who is sick and who might have contaminated a surface,” Hota said.
“We also don’t know how long this virus can survive on surfaces, and that can vary depending on what type of surface it is.”
It is also a good idea to avoid touching your face, Hota said. She also recommends people cough or sneeze into their sleeves and stay home if they are sick.