After devoting much of the past year to caring for elderly patients, doctors are seeing a clear demographic change: young and middle-aged adults account for a growing proportion of patients in covid-19 hospitals.
It is both a sign of the country’s success in protecting the elderly through vaccination and an urgent reminder that younger generations will pay a heavy price if the outbreak is allowed to simmer in communities around the world. country.
“We’re now seeing people in their 30s, 40s and 50s – really sick young people,” he said Dr. Vishnu Chundi, infectious disease specialist and chairman of the covid-19 working group of the Chicago Medical Society. “Most get it, but some don’t … I just lost a 32-year-old with two kids, so it’s heartbreaking.”
Nationwide, adults under the age of 50 now account for the most hospitalized cubic patients in the country, approximately 36% of all hospital admissions. People aged 50 to 64 account for the second highest number of hospitalizations, or about 31%. Meanwhile, hospitalizations among adults age 65 and older have dropped significantly.
About 32% of the American population it is now fully vaccinated, but the vast majority are people over 65, a group that was prioritized in the initial phase of vaccine launch.
Although there are new infections gradually decreasing nationwide, some regions have struggled with a resurgence of coronavirus in recent months, what some have called “fourth wave“- driven by variant B.1.1.7, first identified in the UK, which is estimated to be between 40% and 70% more contagious.
As many states abandon pandemic precautions, this more virulent strain still has ample room to spread among the younger population, which remains widely susceptible to the disease.
The emergence of more dangerous strains of the virus in the U.S., including variants first discovered in South Africa and Brazil, has made the vaccination effort even more urgent.
“We’re in a completely different ball game,” he said Judith Malmgren, epidemiologist at the University of Washington.
The rise in infections among young adults creates a “disease reservoir” that eventually “spills over into the rest of society,” a yet to achieve herd immunity – and predicts a wider increase in cases, he said.
Fortunately, the chance of dying from covidi is still very small for people under 50, but this age group can suffer from serious illnesses or experience long-term symptoms after the initial infection. People with underlying conditions such as obesity and heart disease are also more likely to suffer from serious illnesses.
“B.1.1.7 doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, and when it comes to young people, our messaging about it is still too soft,” Malmgren said.
Hospitals full of younger and sick people
Across the country, the influx of younger patients with covid has surprised clinicians describing hospital beds full of patients, many of whom appear to be sicker than was observed during previous pandemic waves.
“Many of them require ICU care,” he said Dra. Michelle Barron, head of infection prevention and control at UCHealth, one of Colorado’s largest hospital systems, compared to previous ones in the pandemic.
The average age of covid patients in UCHealth hospitals has decreased by more than 10 years in recent weeks, from 59 to 48, Barron said.
“I think we will continue to see it, especially if there isn’t a lot of vaccine uptake in these groups,” he said.
Although most hospitals are far from the onslaught of disease during the winter, the explosion of cases in Michigan highlights the possible consequences of easing restrictions when a large proportion of adults are not yet vaccinated.
There is strong evidence that the three vaccines used in the US offer good protection against the UK variant.
One study suggests that variant B.1.1.7 does not lead to more serious diseases, as previously thought. However, patients infected with the variant appear to be more likely to have more of the virus in their body than those in the previously dominant strain, which may help explain why it spreads more easily.
“We believe this may be causing more of these hospitalizations in younger people,” he said Dr. Rachael Lee at the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital.
Lee’s hospital has also seen an increase in younger patients. As in other southern states, Alabama has one low vaccine absorption rate.
But even in Washington state, where much of the population chooses to receive the vaccine, hospitalizations they have been steadily increasing since early March, especially among young people. In the Seattle area, there are now more twenty-year-olds hospitalized for covid than 70-year-olds, according to Dr. Jeff Duchin, head of public health in Seattle and King County.
“We still don’t have enough vaccinated young adults to counter the increased ease with which variants spread,” Duchin said at a recent news conference.
At the national level, about 32% of people in their forties they are completely vaccinated, compared to 27% of people in their 30s. This share falls to approximately 18% in young people aged 18 to 29.
“I hope the death curve doesn’t go up so fast, but it puts pressure on the healthcare system,“said Dr. Nathaniel Schlicher, emergency physician and president of the Washington State Medical Association.
Schlicher, who was also about 30 years old, recalls with horror two of his recent patients, close to his age and formerly healthy, who were admitted with a new-onset heart failure caused by a covid.
“I’ve seen it up close and that’s what scares me,” he said.
“I understand young people feel invincible, but what I would just tell them is don’t be afraid to die, don’t be afraid of heart failure, lung damage and not being able to do the things you love to do.”
Will younger adults be vaccinated?
Doctors and public health experts hope the worrying rise in hospitalizations among young demographics will be temporary, which will soon counteract vaccines. It was only on April 19 that all adults became eligible for a covida vaccine, although they were available in some states much earlier.
“We just have to make it very easy, so it’s not inconvenient,” said Malmgren, the Washington epidemiologist. “We have to think about it and think a little differently.”
This story is part of an association that includes NPR and KHN.