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Were scientists wrong about this basic coronavirus fact we thought we knew all along?

Published Oct 19th, 2020 3:52PM EDT
Coronavirus update
Image: Richard B. Levine/Newscom/MEGA

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  • A new coronavirus update has emerged in the form of a study about COVID-19 risk factors, published in recent days in the journal Scientific Reports.
  • It comes to the conclusion that the data doesn’t show that old people are necessarily at greater risk of contracting the coronavirus (even though they are at greater risk of experiencing a severe illness from COVID-19 once they have contracted it).
  • This should serve as another reminder to all age groups, but especially to younger adults who take more risks, that anyone can contract the virus.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged on, it’s truly remarkable when you stop and think how much has changed — how comprehensively the pandemic has altered our lives, and even how much we’ve learned about this novel virus in the few months that humanity has been aware of its existence.

Part of that learning process involves updating, challenging, and ditching old assumptions as new facts are acquired. For example, a new coronavirus update in the form of a study published in the journal Scientific Reports in recent days makes it clear that a basic fact everyone thought they understood at the beginning of the pandemic was essentially wrong. Older people are generally understood to be more at risk of becoming severely ill when infected with COVID-19 (per CDC data), which could lead you to think that demographic is also the most vulnerable in general when it comes to the virus. But being most likely to develop a severe illness is not the same thing as being more likely to get infected by COVID-19 in the first place.

“Among adults,” according to the CDC, “the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at highest risk. Severe illness means that the person with COVID-19 may require hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe, or they may even die.” In terms of infection, however, which is the front end of the coronavirus — well, just consider the title of that Scientific Reports study: “The age distribution of mortality from novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) suggests no large difference of susceptibility by age.”

“Among Italy, Spain, and Japan, the age distributions of COVID-19 mortality show only small variation even though the number of deaths per country shows large variation,” the study authors wrote of their findings. They go on to explain they were able to find no clear, conclusive proof that old age puts people at greater risk of being infected in the first place with COVID-19. “Further investigations regarding age-dependency on the fraction of infections becoming symptomatic is required to understand the mechanism behind the mortality by COVID-19 infections.”

This information has implications for pretty much every age demographic, since we now know that younger adults are just as likely to contract the coronavirus — and even, sometimes, to a serious, life-threatening degree — as are older adults. The likelihood is compounded by the presence of comorbidities, which include things like being overweight.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.