Scientists Explain the Reasons Why COVID-19 Is More Lethal Among the Elderly

The new Coronavirus pandemic caught everyone by surprise, from doctors and nurses to researchers looking for a vaccine or treatment. As country after country started reporting deaths, a pattern became apparent: the elderly are the most at risk age group.

What the Statistics Say about the Victims of COVID-19

The latest numbers released by researchers on March 30 show the following distribution of fatalities among age groups:

  • 13.4% in the +80 age group;
  • 1.25% in patients in their 50s;
  • 0.3% in patients in their 40s.

There is a visible discrepancy in these numbers. And, according to a scientific paper published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, an international team of researchers found that the major leap appears in patients in their 70s. Thus, a more detailed distribution of deaths by age groups looks like this:

  • 4% in patients in their 60s;
  • 8.6% in patients in their 70s.

What could be the explanation for the devastating effects of COVID-19 among the elderly population? Is age the factor that separates survivors from the victims? Apparently, it is not such a clear-cut situation.

Age Alone Is Not the Differentiating Factor

Reports from various countries show that old and very old people have survived the new Coronavirus infection. Here are a few instances in this respect:

How can these almost miraculous recoveries be explained? George Kuchel, a specialist in gerontology (treatment of the elderly) at the University of Connecticut explains that age is not the sole differentiator. Speaking to Statnews, he explained:

“Having multiple chronic diseases and frailty is in many ways as or more important than chronological age. An 80-year-old who is otherwise healthy and not frail might be more resilient in fighting off infection than a 60-year-old with many chronic conditions.”

Survival Depends on the Immune System

Thus, as several doctors and researchers noted, immunity is the key to a full recovery from COVID-19 infection. When the person does not have underlying conditions, their immune system is in good working condition. Thus, it is capable of fighting the virus.

However, even a fully functional immune system eventually grows older. As Janko Nikolich-Zuglich, immunobiologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine explains, as age advances, the body produces a decreasing number of T cells to fight viruses.

At the same time, with age, the ability of T cells to transmit the “memory” of fighting a virus to a new generation of cells decreases. Thus, the newer T cells produced by the body of an elderly person are not fully equipped with the information they need to identify and fight a virus. As Janko Nikolich-Zuglich stated in a Nature magazine article, it is the “twilight of the immunity”, an inevitable effect of growing older.

For Iris Writing International, the COVID-19 pandemic is a very serious situation and we aim to be helpful and provide you with correct information. We invite you to browse our library of articles for accurate facts and advice to help you stay safe and overcome these trying times.

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