Data has shown that children, as a whole, have less severe cases of COVID-19 infections than adults. Now a new study may explain why: They have a better immune response to the virus.
The study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, analyzed immune responses in 65 children and 60 adults with COVID-19 at a hospital system in New York City by looking at blood and cell samples. The researchers discovered that the children had a shorter length of stay, less of a need for mechanical ventilation and a lower mortality rate than adults.
Previous research has found that a dangerous immune response to COVID-19 has been linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can have severe outcomes in adults, including a great need for mechanical ventilation and a higher risk of death. It’s less common for children to have those severe consequences, which has caused some experts to theorize that their immune response to the virus is suppressed.
But the study found that children actually produce higher levels of two immune system molecules called cytokines, specifically interleukin 17A (IL-17A), which helps prompt an immune system response early in an infection, and interferon gamma (IFN-γ ), which tries to stop the virus from replicating. The researchers found that the younger the patient, the higher their levels of IL-17A and IFN-γ. “This suggests that IL-17A and IFN-γ or the cells that produce them contribute to immune protection, particularly against lung disease,” study co-author Dr. Betsy C. Herold, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “Our findings suggest that boosting innate immune responses early in the disease may be beneficial.”