DETROIT – One of the enduring bits of good news about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, is that unlike most viral illnesses where the youngest and oldest are most affected, it appears children do not generally have the severe complications adults do.
Children can still become infected and spread the illness to other children and adults. But compared to older adults, children develop severe illness much less often. Examining why that’s the case and why a child’s immune system behaves different can give us a clue to how to beat it in adults.
A recent paper published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified several factors that could be responsible for the observed decreased susceptibility to severe disease. That includes a reduced number of the ACE2 receptors that the virus binds to. The possibility that other coronavirus infections that produce the common cold might offer cross reactive immunity and even that asthma and other allergic diseases might offer some protection.
A new study published in the Science Translational Medicine journal looked at the immune response to COVID-19 in 65 children and 65 adults.
Some children still do develop severe disease. There have been six deaths in the 10 to 19 age group in Michigan. That compares to 1,788 deaths in adults 70 to 70 and more than 2,800 deaths in people more than 80 years old.
More importantly they act as a reservoir for the virus in our communities, allowing it to spread more easily. Children infected with SARS-CoV-2 do not develop as severe illness as adults -- even among children who develop multi-system inflammatory syndrome, death is rare.