One in three young Americans are at risk of developing severe COVID-19 if they contract the virus, a new study suggests.
The new research is because young adults make up an increasing proportion of coronavirus cases.
Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) analyzed data on about 8,400 Americans ages 18 to 44 and found that about a third of them have at least one risk factor for serious illness.
High rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, and especially smoking can mean that the multitudes of young coronavirus patients identified in the U.S. can be hospitalized or even die.
A new study from the University of California, San Francisco found that one in three young Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 are vulnerable to becoming seriously ill if they contract the coronavirus (file)
When coronavirus came to the U.S., public health officials warned that it was a disease that primarily affects the elderly, and believed that children might even have some degree of protection.
It is now abundantly clear that this is not the case.
Most healthy young people still develop only mild infections, and many have no symptoms at all.
But the virus does not discriminate, and young adults are certainly not immune to infection or becoming seriously ill.
At the peak of the coronavirus epidemic in New York City, more than 40 percent of the enrolled patients were between the ages of 18 and 44.
In Florida, where new daily infections have hit record highs every few days in the past two weeks, the average age of an infected person has fallen from 65 in May to 35.
Hospital systems in parts of Texas have nearly collapsed under the weight of coronavirus patients. More than half of the infected people are under 45 years old.
Nearly 40% of young adults in the U.S. are uninsured for at least part of last year, three percent are obese, nearly 11% smoke, and nearly 8% have asthma
It is about the same in Arizona. More than half of the nearly 124,000 people who now have coronavirus in the state are between the ages of 18 and 44.
Officials in some states have relied on the generally low rates of serious illness among young coronavirus patients as evidence that even with reopenings, daily deaths will continue to fall.
But the number of deaths is starting to rise in states like Florida and Texas, and the new study suggests those increases will only get steeper as the virus continues to spread among young people.
The UCSF team analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from approximately 8,400 young adults.
They found that eight percent of Americans have percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 who have asthma, which has recently suggested that people are at greater risk of lung failure or death from coronavirus.
Another 1.2 percent of the group had diabetes and three percent were obese.
Developing evidence suggests that coronavirus damages many more organs than just the lungs, as previously thought, including the liver and pancreas – the latter of which is involved in diabetes.
In addition, obese people have a higher inflammatory level at baseline, and it is often the body’s uncontrollable inflammatory response to coronavirus that kills patients.
The rates of medical frailty – including chronic health problems and lack of insurance – were higher among young smokers than non-smokers, the study found.
The damage that smoking does to the lungs causes them to weaken to fight respiratory infections like coronavirus.
Some early, controversial studies suggested that the number of hospital admissions among smokers was actually lower, but pulmonologists and infectious disease specialists insist that smoking increases COVID-19 risks.
Emerging evidence suggests that while smokers are no more likely to contract the coronavirus, their risk of dying from the infection is higher.
“Smoking can have significant effects in young adults, who typically have low rates for most chronic diseases,” said study co-author Dr. Sally Adams, which means that smoking can have a more dramatic effect on their risks of serious disease because they are less disruptive risk factors.
The UCSF study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that nearly 11 percent of 18 to 44-year-olds in the U.S. had smoked cigarettes, 7.2 percent vaporized and 4.5 percent cigars in the past 30 days had smoked during the same period.
“Efforts to reduce smoking and e-cigarette use among young adults would likely reduce their vulnerability to serious illnesses,” said Dr. Charles Irwin, a second study author and physician in the UCSF division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine.