More and more young people are dying from COVID-19, says WHO

It is a mistake to believe that the virus only severely impacts older people

News Desk April 04, 2020
Maria D Van Kerkhove, World Health Organization (WHO) Head AI Emerging Diseases and Zoonoses Units, speaks during a press conference. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

The officials of World Health Organisation have warned that more young people are becoming critically ill and dying from the coronavirus that has now spread to almost every country across the world.

It is a mistake to believe that the virus only severely impacts older people and those with underlying conditions, claims officials.

Talking about the increasing number of young people getting infected and dying of the pandemic, head of WHO's emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove said: “We are seeing more and more younger individuals who are experiencing severe disease, we have seen some data from several countries across Europe where people of younger age have died. Some of those individuals have had underlying conditions, but some have not."

She was addressing a news briefing from the organisation’s Geneva headquarters.

Much remains unknown about the virus, including why the disease develops into a severe illness in some individuals but not others, Van Kerhove said. She added that as the virus spreads to more countries and more clinical data is collected, researchers are learning about the behavior of the virus.

Talking about vulnerability of older people to the virus, Van Kerhove added that most of the people with severe illnesses in intensive care tend to be older or have underlying conditions. “But what we are seeing in some countries is that there are individuals who are in their 30s, who are in their 40s, who are in their 50s who are in ICU and who have died."

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It was a mistake to believe that the virus only severely impacts older people and those with underlying conditions, claimed Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program.

In Italy, one of the largest outbreaks in the world, 10% to 15% of all people in intensive care are under 50. In Korea, he added, one in six deaths have been people below the age of 60, he added.

“There was a tendency for the last several months, almost a dismissive attitude, to say, ‘Well, this disease is severe in older people, and it’s fine in younger people,’" Ryan said.

“We collectively have been living in a world where we’ve tried to convince ourselves that this disease is mild in young people and more severe in older people, and that’s where the problem is.”

Ryan emphasised the importance of taking measures for younger people to prevent the spread of the virus, not only to protect themselves, but also to contain the spread and protect others who are more vulnerable.

The WHO has previously warned that the virus can infect young people and, while it may be less common, it can also develop into a severe and life-threatening illness.

Last month, world health officials referenced a study in China that looked at 2,143 cases of children with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 that were reported to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between Jan 16 and Feb 8.

That study showed that more than 90% of the cases were asymptomatic, mild or moderate cases. However, nearly 6% of the children’s cases were severe or critical, compared with 18.5% for adults.

The novel coronavirus – which emerged in the central China city of Wuhan in December 2019 and has since been declared a pandemic – has literally upended our world. The COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the mysterious contagion has so far infected over one million people, with over 50,000 dead, in all continents of the world barring Antarctica.

This story first appeared on CNBC

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