1 Mar 2020

Children less vulnerable to coronavirus, say Australian experts

1:00 pm on 1 March 2020

Australian health experts say there is already good evidence about who is most at risk from Covid-19 coronavirus.

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Children wearing face masks in Hong Kong to prevent coronavirus. Photo: AFP

The good news is that children seem to be safe from severe symptoms.

Australian chief medical officer Dr Brendan Murphy said one of the surprising features about the virus was how few children seemed to have been identified as infected.

"It's very unusual compared to influenza," he said.

"We don't know whether children might be getting the disease but [their symptoms] are so mild they are not being picked up, or they're not becoming sick, or whether they are somehow less susceptible."

Professor Robert Booy from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance in Sydney said for some reason children appeared to be getting a mild dose of Covid-19.

"Those children who did contract the virus overseas have only had mild symptoms such as fever and upper respiratory symptoms," he said.

So far, no children have been reported as having serious complications, but that is not the case for adults, particularly older ones.

"In adults, they are reacting quite violently because perhaps they have seen a previous coronavirus infection and that's set up the immune system to react inappropriately and excessively," Booy said.

Who is most likely to get COVID-19?

Unlike previous disease outbreaks, doctors across the world have been quick to analyse just who has been suffering serious complications of coronavirus.

One of the largest studies looked at more than 72,000 patients with Covid-19 from China.

Researchers found most people only developed mild symptoms, and those with mild symptoms did not die.

The fatalities occurred in people who already had serious health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.

No deaths had occurred in children, and those most at risk of dying were aged over 70, with an even greater death rate in people aged over 80.

Another paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association analysed who was ending up in hospital in China with pneumonia from Covid-19.

Of the 138 patients, more than half were men with a median age of 56.

The most common symptoms they suffered were fever, fatigue, a dry cough and feeling unwell.

Less common symptoms were headache, dizziness, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

While one third of the patients were healthy enough to be discharged from hospital, six of them died from the illness.

The findings point experts to where resources need to be deployed.

Booy said authorities needed to focus on older people living in aged care and the elderly still living at home, as they were most at risk.

"People with chronic medical conditions of the lung or the heart also need to be closely monitored," he said.

Advice for everyone: keep your distance

Even though research has shown that Covid-19 is more likely to be a severe illness in older people, experts say it is wise to treat everyone with "caution and respect".

"Anyone could transmit the infection to you," Booy said.

"So smile, don't shake hands, keep a good distance away from other people."

Practice good hand hygiene with frequent hand washing, disposing of tissues and sneezing into the crook of your arm.


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