• By Vivien Williams

Kids and COVID-19: Why they are not getting as sick

March 17, 2020
a group of happy children laughing and smiling outside in the sunshine

Children are not immune to COVID-19. They are getting infected with the disease and can spread it, but they do not get as sick as adults. Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo Clinic pediatric infectious diseases specialist, offers some insight as to why.

"There is some interesting information about kids and this new coronavirus," says Dr. Rajapakse. "Theories about why kids are not getting as sick have to do with their exposure to other coronaviruses, such as the common cold, and their immune systems."

Watch: Dr. Rajapakse explain why kids infected with COVID-19 are not getting as sick as adults.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Rajapakse are in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy "Nipunie Rajapakse, M.D., / Pediatric Infectious Diseases / Mayo Clinic."

No one is immune

"We know that no-one is immune to it, because this is a novel, or new, virus that we haven't been exposed to in the past. So we don't think anyone has preexisting immunity to it."

Theories

"Kids who have been found to be infected seem to be having mild, if any illness at all, related to the infection.," says Dr. Rajapakse. "One theory is we know that there are other coronaviruses that circulate in the community and cause the common cold. And because kids frequently get colds, there is some thought that maybe some of those antibodies are providing them with some protection to this coronavirus."

"The other thing is there might be a way that kids' immune systems interact with this virus that is different than what we're seeing in some of the older adults or people who are having more severe illness," says Dr. Rajapakse.

"An additional factor may relate to the fact that kids are much less likely to have other underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, lung disease or weakened immune systems than older adults," says Dr. Rajapakse. "These underlying diseases seem to be an important risk factor for developing more severe and complicated illness in adults. So far, there have been very limited reports on how children who have some of these underlying medical conditions have done when they have gotten infected, and they are a group that we need to learn more about quickly." 

Dr. Rajapakse says all of these theories are being explored by researchers who are working to learn more about how COVID-19 affects children.

Check the CDC website for additional updates on COVID-19.
For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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