SEOUL — Most kids who catch COVID-19 will fare better than adults and get mildly sick, new findings suggest, but not all will be spared from falling severely sick.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tuesday data, the number of patients under 10 here stood at 105, accounting for 1.15 percent of the total 9,137 cases, and those under 20 stood at 475, or 5.2 percent.
“No one under 20 is having severe or critical symptoms in Korea,” pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Eun Byung-wook said in a phone interview.
“But this is not to say that children and adolescents are not capable of falling critically ill. It can happen in very exceptional circumstances, especially for late teens who can experience an immune reaction known as ‘cytokine storm,’” he said.
Cytokine storm is an extreme immune response that attacks the body’s organs, Eun explained.
Dr. Choi Eun-hwa, vice president of the Korean Society of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, told The Korea Herald that it was hard to comment on severe or deadly cases of pediatric infections due to insufficient data, but that juvenile COVID-19 cases here have been “very mild.”
Children in Korea have not been as severely affected by the disease, so far. But instances of young patients getting severely ill are being increasingly reported in other parts of the world.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed the death of an 18-year-old on Tuesday, which the department has said required evaluation by the US CDC for a possible alternate explanation.
Children of all ages are susceptible to the disease, according to a study examining 2,143 pediatric COVID-19 cases in China.
The study, published March 16 in the journal Pediatrics, found that although children’s COVID-19 cases have been generally less severe than those of adults, younger children — infants in particular — remained vulnerable. There were no significant differences between boys and girls.
The study said 4.4 percent of the pediatric patients were diagnosed as asymptomatic, 50.9 percent as mild and 38.8 percent as moderate, together accounting for 94.1 percent of all cases.
The remaining 5.9 percent were severe and critical cases, comparatively fewer than observed in adults –18.5 percent. Infants under 1 comprised the highest proportion of severe and critical cases at 10.6 percent, followed by children between 1 and 5 at 7.3 percent. One — a 14-year-old boy — has died.
Common symptoms of mild and moderate infections include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing, the study said. Less common symptoms were digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea.
Infectious disease specialist Kim Tae-hyong of Soonchunhyang University Hospital said there was no explanation as to how the disease could kill a young and otherwise healthy individual.
“We don’t know if cytokine storm is the direct cause of young fatalities. It is a very rare phenomenon and we don’t know what kind of risk factors are involved. It’s all an assumption at this point,” he said.
In a Tuesday briefing, senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho told reporters that government measures regarding kids in the COVID-19 crisis came in two parts: Protecting them as vulnerable populations and preventing them from becoming a source of spread.
He added that the safety of starting a new school term, the date of which has been twice postponed to April 3, has yet to be evaluated.
“The government will be watching closely the cases both here and abroad to determine whether it is safe to send our children to school,” he said.
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