DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. Another story we're following is the coronavirus outbreak. And it now appears that children may be less vulnerable to this novel virus. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on two small studies out of China, both of which, experts say, offer some reassurance to parents.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Given the thousands of cases of coronavirus in China, it may be surprising that the number of children known to be infected is remarkably low. Terri Stillwell is a pediatric infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan.
TERRI STILLWELL: Even though we are seeing almost 75,000 total cases at this point, the literature is really only reporting about a hundred or so pediatric cases.
AUBREY: It's likely that more kids have been infected with the virus but don't get sick enough to need medical attention. Or, in some cases, kids may have no symptoms at all. Cody Meissner is an infectious disease expert and professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine.
CODY MEISSNER: More than 80% of the infections are pretty mild, no more severe than the common cold. And children have even milder infections.
AUBREY: Meissner says the data is preliminary, but he points to the findings of one new study out of China. Physicians evaluated nine infants who'd been hospitalized after getting the coronavirus from a family member.
MEISSNER: It turned out that it was a very mild illness. Some had a cough. Fever was - it was very low-grade. It was really a mild upper respiratory tract infection or even no symptoms.
AUBREY: So far, it seems the new virus is more likely to infect older adults, particularly people with chronic health problems. And those who've died from the virus in China tend to be much older, averaging in their 70s.
Now, another group that public health officials worry about during an infectious disease outbreak is pregnant women. And Sallie Permar, a professor of pediatrics and immunology at Duke University School of Medicine, says there's already some evidence coming out of China that's reassuring.
SALLIE PERMAR: There has been a small study that was recently released in The Lancet that followed women who were infected in their third trimester of pregnancy.
AUBREY: Now, when these women delivered, none of them had severe complications, such as severe pneumonia, and neither did their babies. To assess whether the virus had been passed on, researchers tested samples of amniotic fluid and breast milk.
PERMAR: And so far, from this small study, they did not find virus in those tissues or fluids. And the good news is that we haven't seen evidence of vertical transmission in coronaviruses.
AUBREY: More studies are needed, Permar says, but these are important findings from the epicenter of the outbreak. As for the risk that coronavirus poses to people outside of China, University of Michigan's Terri Stillwell says it's important for public health officials to be vigilant. The situation is fluid. But she says if you live in the U.S., there's likely a much bigger threat this season.
STILLWELL: I would be remiss as a pediatric infectious disease physician to not mention that our flu season is still in full swing, with over 26 million cases of influenza and about 14,000 deaths here in the U.S. alone. And so certainly, the influenza season is probably a much riskier thing at this point.
AUBREY: Every year, more than a hundred children in the U.S. die from the flu. And the majority of those deaths, according to the CDC, occur in kids who were not vaccinated.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF LO DINO'S "WOULD YOU")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.