How COVID-19 Can Kill Healthy Young People? - DoctorOnCall

Answered by: Dr Sri Viknarajan
Updated on: May 6, 2020

Question:
Greetings, doctor. I'm a student at a local University. This current issue of coronavirus that happens now worries me. I have read before that the effect of coronavirus infection depends on one's immunity. If a person's immunity is weak, then the effects of this infection can be fatal. Back then, I thought young people like me would be more resistant to this infection. However, I received news that one of the students from our university had died from this infection. If I’m not mistaken, he does not have chronic problems such as diabetes, hypertension or ect. My question is the death in young people related to coronavirus high and how can this happen?
Answer:
Greetings. Thanks for your question. I understand your concern about this issue. An individual’s level of immunity plays an important role in the effects of the virus. However, there is actually a lot more that we don't know about this virus. According to reports, deaths in young people due to this infection are much lower compared to the elderly. Less than 1% of deaths occur in patients aged 20–54 years who are infected with coronavirus. There are several theories to explain the deaths occurring among young people. For answers, please read the article below.

According to the initial data reported regarding COVID-19 cases received by the CDC in the United States, 53% of the patients who were hospitalized due to the virus aged 55 years old and above. This data implied that almost half of the patients are young age groups. Nevertheless, people who are 85 years old and above were mostly accounted for the death counts comprising 10-27% of the total deaths reported by CDC up until 16th March 2020. On the other hand, 3-11% of the total deaths were patients from the age of 65 to 84 years old and 1-3% were patients from the group of 55 to 64 years old. The data collected also stated that less than 1% of the total deaths were patients between the age of 20 to 54 years old. If you are updated with the recent news in Malaysia, the data collected were similar. Mostly, patients who were the elderly have a higher likelihood to have serious illness including death. 

Although we can conclude that the risk of death in patients who are young between the age of 20 to 54 years old is low, however, it is undeniable that there is still low chances of dying amongst this age group. Hence, to answer the title of this article is yes, the data that had been collected so far had shown that young people can die due to COVID-19. 

It is clear and obvious that the main cause of death in elderly patients is due to their underlying illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, high cholesterol level and many more that weaken their immune system making them more vulnerable. 

Needless to say, why do some young and fit people die of COVID-19? This leads to a bigger question on the scary nature of this virus. As to date, many theories were suggested to explain the problem and answer the question. 

One of the theories suggested that genetics plays a big role in determining one’s susceptibility towards this infectious disease. In other words, genetics influenced how their body reacted to the infection and in this case, the patient had an excessive amount of reaction towards the infection. 

Herpes Simplex infection that causes “cold sore” is an example of how genetics plays a role to explain this theory. For a few people who carry the genetics of the TLR3 receptor on their cells in the nervous system, their body reacts differently and causes symptoms that are worse than a cold sore. Their body responded differently to the virus causing inflammation of the brain or also known as Herpes Simplex Encephalitis. 

Another theory that explains the death of young people due to COVID-19 includes the relationship between the viral load/counts with the impact it could have on the infected person. The initial report from China suggested that a high viral load can cause more severe symptoms. This can be seen in patients who are infected with SARS, another type of Coronavirus. Nevertheless, this theory remains uncertain and has not yet been verified. 

In conclusion, the risk of death in young people is low, but this age group has a high chance of being infected with this infectious disease due to various reasons. Hence, take preventive measures that may reduce your risk of contracting with this disease. Please stay at home as recommended by the government. If you experience any symptoms, self-quarantine and continuous monitoring of the symptoms are the best options. If you still go out, not knowing that you are carrying the virus, you might infect the elderly or those who are vulnerable to serious illness due to COVID-19. Remember, this virus kills. Therefore, be responsible for implementing social distancing even when you have to go out. Hopefully, the pandemic will resolve soon with everyone's cooperation.



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