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Coronavirus affects kids less than anyone else. Nobody’s sure why.

Children are far less likely than adults to get sick from coronavirus. But they can still spread it.
Connerton Elementary students check out the jungle gym at the school's then-newly renovated playground in 2014. Area schools have stayed open in the wake of coronavirus arriving in Florida, and experts say that kids seem to be less susceptible to the virus than adults. [Times | (2014)]
Connerton Elementary students check out the jungle gym at the school's then-newly renovated playground in 2014. Area schools have stayed open in the wake of coronavirus arriving in Florida, and experts say that kids seem to be less susceptible to the virus than adults. [Times | (2014)]
Published Mar. 4, 2020

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With coronavirus appearing in Florida and spreading in the United States, one detail has emerged that might soften the worries of parents of young children: Very few kids are getting sick.

The China Center for Disease Control reported last month that of the first 72,000 cases there, less than 1 percent were children age 9 or younger, and only about 2 percent were younger than 20. All three of the people who have tested positive in the Tampa Bay area are adults. Worldwide, no child fatalities have been reported.

Most children who have tested positive for the virus have mild cases, said Dr. Juan Dumois, a pediatric infections disease physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Some don’t even have coughs or fevers, tell-tale symptoms of the virus.

“Many of them look like they just have a cold,” he said.

Related: Florida schools teach healthy habits in the age of coronavirus

Doctors haven’t figured out why kids are less susceptible to this coronavirus, known technically as COVID-19, Dumois said. Research comparing immunity among children and adults has yet to emerge. Some experts have hypothesized that children’s immune systems are already so used to grappling with other coronaviruses — some of which cause the common cold — that they’re prepared to ward off COVID-19. Or it could have something to do with how our bodies change with age.

“It could be that certain viruses like this one are only prone to cause severe illness in people with weakened immune systems, including immune systems that naturally weaken over time,” Dumois said.

Whatever the cause, there’s precedent, Dumois said. Kids also fared better than the general population during outbreaks of SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

But even kids who show mild or no symptoms can still spread the disease, and Dumois said families should still take precautions at home, especially when older adults are around. That means wiping down oft-touched surfaces and limiting touch with under-the-weather kids — a grandparent should try to stay several feet away from a hacking 6-year-old.

“6-year-olds are usually not great at proper cough etiquette,” Dumois said.

Some of the countries hit hardest by the virus — China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy — have closed schools in an effort to prevent its spread. Some school districts have also closed in Washington state, where all nine U.S. coronavirus deaths reported by early Wednesday afternoon took place.

Local school districts, which number among the Tampa Bay area’s largest employers, remain open. Those districts have said they’re cleaning more often, ordering and providing more hand sanitizer and emphasizing lessons about hand-washing.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: What you need to know after Florida’s first positive coronavirus cases.

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