March 23, 2020
While early reports from China showed most deaths related to COVID-19 occurred in older patients and those with underlying health issues, that doesn’t mean younger people are immune to developing a severe response to COVID-19. Most cases in young adults are mild, but we’ve heard a few stories of otherwise healthy adults in their 20s and 30s falling extremely ill from the virus.
Recent data (as of March 16) provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that roughly 12% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. need be hospitalized. About 1 in 5 of those cases occurred amongst people ages 20 to 44. A third of cases reported were in those under age 45.
Millennials and Gen-Zers should take the virus seriously. Here’s why:
There’s a lot we still don’t know about this virus
“As more and more cases happen, the virus will change as the pandemic continues to evolve,” says Daniel Varga, M.D., chief physician executive at Hackensack Meridian Health. While we know that older people and those with underlying medical conditions have a higher likelihood of developing more severe symptoms, it’s unclear why some cases are more severe than others in otherwise healthy young adults.
Researchers and scientists are still trying to understand this phenomenon, and while there are no clear answers as to why the virus severely impacts some and not others, there are some theories out there.
The answer may possibly lie within a person’s genetic makeup. Some early research suggests that variations in certain genes may make it easier or harder for the virus to get into lung cells. There is also speculation that an overactive immune system may be the culprit. A very active immune system could cause massive inflammation that could overwhelm the lungs. Both of these theories could potentially impact young people.
Young people can spread the virus without knowing they have it
Data from the CDC suggests that people can have and spread COVID-19 with mild or no symptoms at all. Because of this, everyone, regardless of symptoms, should take proper precautions to distance themselves from others and wear cloth face coverings if you have to go out – especially because the virus is highly contagious.
“If you don’t do your part by staying home, you risk getting someone else sick who may be older or may have an underlying health condition that you don’t know about,” warns Dr. Varga.
Staying home helps health care workers and other front-line workers
Both national and local officials around the globe have instituted stay–at–home orders. Staying home helps reduce the spread of COVID-19 and helps our health care workers and all other essential employees stay safe, performing the jobs that are so crucial right now. This means only leaving the house for necessities, such as food and prescriptions.
The virus is now primarily spread from person-to-person in the community, meaning it is out there and no longer contained and you can potentially be exposed if you visit public places.
Every trip out into the community puts you and others at risk, so it’s important to stay home as much as possible. If you do have to go to the grocery store or pharmacy for essentials, follow measures to protect yourself, including new guidelines to wear a cloth face covering.
“Staying home as much as you can ensures you are doing your part to fight the spread of coronavirus,” says Dr. Varga.
When to seek emergency care
From what we know, most COVID-19 cases are mild for young adults, but it’s important to know what to do just in case you experience severe symptoms. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should go to the emergency room or call 911.*
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.
Next Steps & Resources:
- Feeling ill? Connect with a doc through telemedicine.
- Is it Safe to Visit an Urgent Care Right Now?
- I Think I Have Coronavirus, Now What?
- How to Stay Healthy When Stuck At Home
- How to Keep Coronavirus Off Your Phone & Devices
- Clinical Contributor: Daniel Varga, M.D.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.