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Why do younger people get less sick from COVID-19 than the elderly?

Since the start of the pandemic, the virus has wreaked havoc on people’s health, leaving mysteries, death, and uncertainty in its wake. With such a new unique virus, scientists were left with many questions but fewer answers. Moreover, over the course of the past months, science started answering these questions. However, one of the main questions that remain unanswered is why do COVID-19 symptoms appear to be more merciful to the youth and children while remaining cruel and harsh to the elderly.

General Assessment

In a way, it makes sense. The elderly are more fragile. The weak immune system along with time’s lethal touch rarely makes a suitable match for a deadly virus. Thus, Adults over 65 years of age representing 80% of hospitalizations and having a 23-fold greater risk of death than those under 65 is not a big surprise

Furthermore, the elderly are more prone to hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory system diseases. Therefore, they are more vulnerable in the face of the COVID-19 lethal hand.

Early immune defenses

A new study found that the early immune defenses in the youth are stronger than that of the elderly. Thus, the youth’s immune system attacks the foreign virus faster and harder than any of the old folk. Therefore, the first defense plays a huge role in the final outcome.

The elderly’s muted frontline defenses allow the virus to achieve a strong foothold, thus setting up the course of the upcoming battle. Therefore, the researchers report in Science Translational Medicine theorize that the weak and slow immune defenses result in worse symptoms.

The report also further proves that boosting early immune responses to the virus with a vaccine or drugs like interferons can play a huge role in the overall outcome.

The ACE2 protein

On the other hand, researchers were also searching for answers on why the younger generation generally get less sick from the very same virus. Thus, there is a theory that attributes the difference with the ACE2 protein. Usually, when compared to adults and the elderly, youth have fewer amounts of the ACE2 protein in their upper respiratory tracts.
Since the ACE2 protein is the protein the virus uses to break into cells, the theory is valid.

The IL-17A

When a team of physicians and virologists studied the varied results of adult and youth cases with several conditions, they discovered something new. The study revealed that younger folks had higher amounts of an immune signaling molecule called IL-17A than the older groups. Furthermore, scientists associate this protein with T cells that fight as the first and second waves of the immune system. Thus, the study showed that though older adults did ultimately mount a stronger virus-specific immune response later in infection, their first response was weak. Mainly, it was weaker than that of the younger generation.
“It’s not that [adults] can’t make a neutralizing antibody response,” says Herold, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City. “It’s not that they can’t make a good T cell response. Maybe they make too much of [a late immune response] or a dysregulated one.”

In brief, finding out the reason behind the younger generation’s immune system can help significantly in the battle against the current epidemic. Moreover, the more science reveals about the virus, the more it can save lives. Though the virus has already claimed more than one million lives around the globe, hope still prevails.

References:

Age-dependent effects in the transmission and control of COVID-19 epidemics. (2020). Nature Medicine. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0962-9A.L.M. .a.u.t.h.o.r. .M.S.M. .a.n.d. .D.A.S. .a.u.t.h.o.r. (2020a, May). Why does COVID-19 disproportionately affect older people? Ncbi. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7288963/E.G. .d.e. .J.E.T. (2020b). Early immune responses may be why younger people get less sick from COVID-19. Science News. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/early-immune-responses-young-people-covid19-coronavirus#:~:text=Researchers%20have%20had%20some%20ideas,8%2F4%2F20).