Study of positive coronavirus cases in two of the worst affected countries, China and Italy points to somewhat selective pattern of the spread of Covid-19. That the novel coronavirus targets the older people and avoids the young ones.
Situation gets complicated leading to deaths if the elderly patient already has some medical issues such as breathing problems, diabetes, heart-related ailments and kidney problems.
The mean age of those succumbing to novel coronavirus in Italy was reported to be 81 last week. Italy is known as the country with old population; more than 60 per cent of its total population is over 40. This is said to have contributed to more infections and deaths in Italy than places such as South Korea or even Japan.
China too is considered a country of aging peopulation. This refers to share of elderly people (above 60) crossing 10 per cent in the total population. China’s elderly (above 60) are more than 17 per cent in its total population. Incidentally in China, the Centre for Disease Control reached a similar conclusion as Italy after examining over 72,000 cases that the disease is deadlier in older people. This is also the conclusion of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO Q&A on coronavirus reads, “While we are still learning about how COVID-2019 affects people, older persons and persons with pre-existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes) appear to develop serious illness more often than others.”
In India, all the three deaths due to novel coronavirus infection have happened in the cases of elderly patients. The youngest of them was 64. All had previous medical conditions.
This has given an impression that children are safe and unaffected by coronavirus outbreak. But this does not present the complete picture.
Two main reasons have been attributed to this age specific coronavirus spread pattern. First, it is a medical fact that immunity is strongest in childhood and decreases with advancement in age. DNA, the genetic material that guides most functions of human body, is agile in childhood and responds quicker to alien particles entering the body. This boosts immunity. With advancement of age, the DNA messaging gets corrupted and the right message to disease fighting cells are not delivered efficiently.
Secondly, in most countries, coronavirus testing are symptomatic in process. That is, only those showing synonyms are being tested for novel coronavirus infection. This means a number of children may be passing off without being tested for novel coronavirus.
With stronger immunity, children may not show symptoms of novel coronavirus infection even if they have contracted the contagion. Untested children means more adults entering the records and hence further skew in the final data.
China found that the 10-19 age group formed just one per cent of total novel coronavirus infection. Those below 10 comprised had a less than one per cent share. No death has been reported in the age group.
This does not mean that children are completely immune to novel coronavirus infection. At two cases — one each from China and the UK — were reported about newborns having tested positive for novel coronavirus. Though, the disease Covid-19 has not been found to be transferring from mother to child during pregnancy. A three-year-old child tested positive for Covid-19 in India. She is the youngest Covid-19 patient in India.
But the fact that children are largely untested underscores that they can be carriers or vectors of novel coronavirus. Also, medical conditions like asthma and diabetes are not uncommon among children. In many cases obesity-linked diabetes and asthma are related. In such cases, novel coronavirus infection can be fatal for children.