A preliminary look at novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. backs up findings that the virus hits the elderly the hardest — but it also found that 38 per cent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were adults under the age of 55.
It shows that 38 per cent of 508 Americans hospitalized with the disease were between 20 and 54 years old.
The report is based on data from 4,226 COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. between Feb. 12 and March 16, excluding cases among those repatriated from Wuhan, China and from Japan. It’s essentially a snapshot of some of the earliest recorded cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S.
Ages were reported for 2,449 cases.
It notes that earlier data out of China has already suggested that “a majority” of COVID-19 deaths occurred among older people above the age of 60, and among people with “serious underlying health conditions.”
The CDC report appears to back up that suggestion, finding that 53 per cent of ICU admissions and 80 per cent of COVID-19 related deaths took place among Americans aged 65 and up, with no ICU admissions or deaths among those 19 years or younger.
“Similar to reports from other countries, this finding suggests that the risk for serious disease and death from COVID-19 is higher in older age groups,” the report said.
But the risk for serious disease remains for adults of all ages: “These preliminary data also demonstrate that severe illness leading to hospitalization, including ICU admission and death, can occur in adults of any age with COVID-19.”
The report noted that half of 121 cases admitted to intensive care units were adults younger than 65.
In an interview with The New York Times, Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, said he believes people should be “paying attention.”
“It’s not just going to be the elderly,” he told the Times.
“There will be people age 20 and up. They do have to be careful, even if they think that they’re young and healthy.”
Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infectious disease expert in Toronto, cautioned that younger people can’t pass this virus off as a common cold or flu.
“There are going to be individuals who, for sometimes clear reasons, sometimes unclear reasons, who are young, who will still have severe complications, related to disease,” he said in an interview Thursday night.
But it’s still more likely overall for a younger person to experience a mild form of COVID-19, he added.
“It’s still most likely that if they acquire the infection, the most likely outcome is it won’t be severe,” Vaisman said.
“But I just I think they just need to be aware. It’s a fine line of having awareness and feeling anxiety over an issue.”
More importantly, he wants people to realize that even if they don’t experience severe symptoms, they could pass it on to someone at high risk of severe outcomes.
“A lot of people in this age range will have parents or will be friends with people who have immunocompromised conditions,” Vaisman said.
He also cautioned against comparing Canada to the U.S., where health care systems are different and the population has higher levels of obesity, smoking, and diabetes.
In Canada, as of March 19, a dozen people have died and 736 cases have been reported across the country. Additionally, 10 have recovered fully.
Eight of those deaths have taken place in British Columbia, where the province’s worst outbreak is connected with the Lynn Valley Care Centre, a long-term care facility in North Vancouver. Multiple deaths have been linked to that centre.
Earlier this week, Ontario’s health minister described the virus as a “very serious health situation for all Ontarians,” noting that some people in their 30s were being placed on ventilators elsewhere in the world.
Ontario has seen two deaths so far: a 77-year-old Muskoka man with pre-existing health conditions, who was a patient at a hospital in Barrie; and a man in his 50s who was being treated for an underlying condition at a hospital.
Alberta reported its first death on March 19 — a man in his 60s with underlying health conditions.
The World Health Organization declared the virus outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Within a week, travel bans, restrictions, various states of emergencies and calls to self-isolate or practice social distancing went out across the globe.
As of March 18, the virus has resulted in more than 190,000 infections worldwide and 7,807 deaths.
With Europe now the epicentre of the pandemic, Italy’s death toll surpassed China’s on Thursday, with hospitals reporting being overwhelmed.
As of March 19, a total of 427 deaths were registered in Italy over the past 24 hours, bringing the total nationwide tally to 3,405 since the outbreak surfaced on Feb. 21. China has recorded 3,245 deaths since early January.
However, Italy has far fewer confirmed cases — 41,035 as of Thursday against 80,907 in China. And its larger proportion of elderly people in the population has been flagged as a factor.
Earlier this week, Steven Hoffman, a professor of global health, law and political science at York University, pointed out that Canada and Italy have two differences: Italy’s much older population and the fact that Canada has had two or three weeks more warning.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files by Reuters and by Global News reporters Ryan Rocca, Simon Little