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Johns Hopkins Pediatric

Coronavirus and COVID-19: Younger Adults Are at Risk, Too


Reviewed By: Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H.

In tracking COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, early reports from China indicated that young people were more likely to have milder cases of the disease. But that view may be changing.

Coronavirus infections requiring hospitalization are not only possible in younger adults, but the rate of these cases is higher now that the virus is spreading across other countries. Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., senior director of infection prevention at Johns Hopkins, sheds light on the new data.

New data is changing the picture of who’s vulnerable

Early data coming out of China focused on older people, especially those living with major health problems, as those most likely to be seriously affected by COVID-19. As information reached the U.S., it seemed that the coronavirus was mostly a threat to the elderly and those with other underlying health issues.

Now, as testing slowly ramps up in the U.S., there are more recognized cases here and the trends are becoming clearer.

Data in a March 16, 2020, report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are showing that younger adults are also getting COVID-19, and some are requiring hospitalization, even intensive care.

For example, the CDC report shows that as of March 16, 2020, 508 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. Of these, 38% were between 20 and 54 years old. Half of those ending up in intensive care were younger than 65.

Officials in Europe are noting the same trend, with reports that half of serious cases in France and the Netherlands are in people under age 50.

Does vaping increase the risk of getting severe COVID-19?

“It’s reasonable to conclude that there could be a connection,” says Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. There has been a recent outbreak of lung injuries and death associated with vaping. So it may be that those who vape may have early lung injury or inflammation, and if they become infected with COVID-19, this could be doubly harmful. More research needs to be done, explains Blaha, but it underscores the need for people to know more about vaping and its possible health impact.

How can young people stay safe from COVID-19?

It’s important for young adults to realize that COVID-19 could affect them, and that they should take precautions so they don’t catch the coronavirus.

In addition to endangering their own health, more coronavirus infections among young adults could mean more risk to older people, who are still the group most likely to die. Approximately 80% of deaths are in people older than 65.

Young adults, and people of all ages, should follow guidelines to protect themselves from COVID-19 and know what to do if they feel sick.

In the report, the CDC researchers are clear about the threat of the new coronavirus: “COVID-19 can result in severe disease among persons of all ages.”

Updated Apr. 9, 2020

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