In Depth

Coronavirus: risk statistics for the young and healthy

WHO boss warns that younger people are ‘not invincible’ as Covid-19 death toll climbs

The threat posed to older people and those with underlying health conditions by the coronavirus outbreak is dominating public health warnings, but younger people are “not invincible” either, the World Health Organization has cautioned.

A 21-year-old woman has reportedly become the youngest person with no pre-existing health conditions to have died after contracting coronavirus in the UK.

So what do we know about coronavirus and the threat that it might pose to the young and healthy?

A WHO report published last month on the outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the pandemic, found that the “individuals at highest risk for severe disease and death include people aged over 60 years and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer”.

The report says that “disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild”, with 2.4% of the total reported cases affecting under-19s. Only a very small proportion of these children developed severe (2.5%) or critical disease (0.2%).

A separate analysis by America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of data for US patients from 12 February to 16 March found that the fatality rate was between 10% and 27% for people over 85; between 3% and 11% for people aged 65-84; from 1% to 3% for people aged 55-64; and less than 1% for people aged 20-54.

At the time, there were no fatalities for under-19s, but Los Angeles Public Health this week announced the first death of a coronavirus patient aged under 18. No further details were given about their age or if they had any underlying health conditions.

Spain has also reported one death of a patient aged between ten and 19.  A report published on 22 March by the country’s Ministry of Health said that around 95% of Spain’s coronavirus deaths were among over-60s.

In the UK, the youngest person with the virus to have died is believed to be an 18-year-old with an underlying health condition. Today, it emerged that an otherwise healthy 21-year-old woman - Chloe Middleton, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire - died from coronavirus on 21 March. She is thought to be the youngest person among the UK fatalities without an underlying condition.

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Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautions that the virus “isn’t a mathematical formula”.

“There are going to be people who are young who are going to wind up getting seriously ill,” he told the BBC.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour MP and A&E doctor, said she had treated previously “fit and well” patients in their 30s and 40s who were now “fighting for their lives”.

One British coronavirus survivor - Mark Stubbs, a 28-year-old businessman and marathon runner - told Good Morning Britain: “The aches and pains, it’s not an exaggeration to say you feel like you’ve been in a car crash.”

Meanwhile, the sister of Areema Nasreen, a 36-year-old nurse in critical care after being diagnosed with coronavirus, told news site Birmingham Live: “I want everyone to know how dangerous this is. My sister is only 36 and is normally fit and healthy. People are not taking this seriously enough. She is young – it is not just the elderly who are at risk.”

Underlining that point last week, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “I have a message for young people: You are not invincible, this virus could put you in hospital for weeks or even kill you.

“Even if you don’t get sick, the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else.”

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