Why coronavirus can be fatal in young people

Coronavirus can be fatal to young people because of the extreme immune response triggered by the virus within their body, advises Dr Julian Tang, Associate Professor of Respiratory Sciences at the University of Leicester.

Young people that are otherwise healthy can end up with severe disease - possibly leading to death - if their immune system overreacts. On Tuesday 31 March, a 13-year-old boy with no apparent underlying health conditions was named as the youngest victim of coronavirus, after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

The exact mechanisms by which this immune overreaction causes more severe disease in some people and not others is complex and currently the focus of some intense research. It likely involves some genetic factors unique to each patient, and some researchers are considering whether some form of immunosuppression may help in such patients.

Dr Julian Tang, Associate Professor of Respiratory Sciences at the University of Leicester. said: “Tragically we are going to see some cases of otherwise healthy individuals dying from COVID-19, as the infection and disease progresses.

“COVID-19 is mostly immune-mediated, which means that disease in the body results from the over-activity of the immune system, so young healthy people with good immune systems can also end up with severe disease.

“For elderly people and older adults with underlying health conditions, COVID-19 induced immune-mediated disease can unfortunately tip the balance of their existing conditions into catastrophic failure. Although their immune system responses may be weaker, it may still be enough for the body’s immune response to the virus to cause disease that is sadly difficult to recover from.”

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