WebMD News Brief

Children Have Better COVID Immune Response

children smiling

September 24, 2020 – A new study says children infected with coronavirus may fare better than adults because they have a better immune system response.

Researchers studied 65 children and 60 adults with COVID-19 at a hospital system in New York City and found the children stayed in the hospital shorter periods of time, needed ventilators less often and had a lower death rate, according to the study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Those findings fell in line with what other scientists had noticed: Children don’t get as sick with coronavirus as adults. The CDC, for instance, says around eight children per 100,000 were hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 164.5 adults per 100,000. But scientists are not sure why this happens.

By looking at blood and cell samples, the researchers found that the children produced higher levels of two cytokines, or immune system proteins, than adults, the study said.

The cytokine interleukin 17A (IL-17A) helps prompt an immune system response early in an infection, and interferon gamma (IFN-γ) tries to stop the virus from replicating, according to a study in Immune Network . The younger the patient, the higher the level of those cytokines.

Those two cytokines especially helped ward off lung problems -- one of the defining problems of COVID, the study said.

“Takeaway message: Kids do get infected and can get very sick but, in general, do better when infected with the virus,” study co-author Betsy C. Herold, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Yahoo Life. “This age-associated difference may reflect differences in immune responses.”

The researchers said it might help them find a way to boost certain types of immune responses.

Herod, quoted in Market Watch, said that might be something vaccine manufacturers want to look into. Vaccines now under study mostly try to increase antibody levels.

“We may want to consider assessing vaccines that promote immunity in other ways, such as by bolstering the innate immune response,” she said.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 24, 2020

Sources

Science Translational Medicine. “Immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection in hospitalized pediatric and adult patients”

CDC. "Hospitalization Rates and Characteristics of Children Aged <18 Years Hospitalized with Laboratory-Confirmed COVID-19 — COVID-NET, 14 States, March 1–July 25, 2020"

Yahoo Life. "Kids have a better immune response to COVID-19 compared to adults, new study says"
MarketWatch. "Scientists examine how adults and children fight off COVID-19 — and say it may have implications for vaccine research"

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