U.S. Children With Coronavirus Are Less Hard Hit Than Adults, First Data Shows

U.S. Children With Coronavirus Are Less Hard Hit Than Adults, First Data Shows

Children make up a very small proportion of American coronavirus cases so far and are significantly less likely to become seriously ill than American adults, according to a preliminary report on the first wave of coronavirus cases in the United States. But some have become very sick, and at least three have died.

The study, published Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also reported that children appear less likely than adults to develop any of the major known coronavirus symptoms: fever, cough or shortness of breath. That could suggest that many children have mild or undetected cases of the disease and could be spreading the virus to others in their families and communities.

“We don’t think many kids get severe disease, so are kids transmitting the disease at a significant rate that’s going to propagate this outbreak?” asked Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia, who was not involved in the study. The answer to that question, he said, will be important in deciding how to manage the pandemic, when to reopen schools and how to predict future waves of infection.

The C.D.C. study said that 2,572 of the nearly 150,000 confirmed coronavirus cases reported in the United States between Feb. 12 and April 2 were patients under 18. Their median age was 11. Those cases included 850 from New York City, the current epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, 584 from the rest of New York State and 393 from New Jersey.

There were some significant gaps in the data. The researchers said that important information — like whether the patients went to the hospital or what, if any, symptoms they had — was not available for many of the cases in the study. State and local health departments, many of which have been overwhelmed by the fast-moving pandemic, may be able to provide more data in the future, the report said.

Of the 745 cases with data on whether the child was hospitalized, 147 children — about a fifth — were reported to have been hospitalized. Among adults that rate is about a third, the report said.

Forty percent of pediatric hospitalizations, or 59 cases, were for babies under 1. Five of the 15 children admitted to intensive care were babies. Children with underlying health conditions also appeared to have a greater risk of hospitalization, the report said.

“Compared to other respiratory diseases, this is incredibly unique in the proportion of severely ill children,” Dr. Murthy said. “We would expect more hospitalization based on the number of kids that might get infected, and we’re not seeing that at all. And we still don’t know why.”

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