It has been observed that teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 are hit much harder by the Covid-19 coronavirus and stand a greater chance of being hospitalised than younger children, said professor Liesl Zühlke, a paediatrician and cardiologist of the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases of SA (NICD) recently adjusted its research to examine children younger than 19, as has been the international model.
According to the NICD’s latest report, 4 142 South Africans younger than 19 tested positive for Covid-19 between March 1 and November 21, with most of them needing to be hospitalised.
In total, 40% (1 631) of them were between the ages of 15 and 19.
“It’s mainly because older children have a higher viral load. They are young adults with more capacity than smaller children, so they just breathe the virus in and out,” said Professor Glenda Gray, president and chief executive of the SA Medical Research Council.
Recent research published in Jama Network, a medical journal published by the American Medical Association, argues that younger children are less likely to get Covid-19 because their noses have fewer ACE2 receptors – the protein that provides the entry point for the virus to hook into and infect a wide range of human cells as it is found on the surface of many cell types.
Gray said people also needed to remember that smaller children are not as irresponsible as teenagers, who are more likely to break the rules of mask-wearing and social distancing.
“They want to be careless and free. I know, I am a mother of teenagers,” said Gray.
At least 100 new Covid-19 cases have been tied to the Ballito Rage event, a week-long festival that is held in KwaZulu-Natal for matriculants every November. The festival was held between November 27 and December 4, and although the organisers apparently enforced strict Covid-19 rules, the virus spread rapidly among festivalgoers.
According to the organisers, they sold no alcohol and therefore festivalgoers gathered at other places where they could get booze.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize last week announced that the Ballito Rage was a superspreader event, saying 1 000 matrics who had attended it had to go into isolation or get tested.
Other Rage festivals across the county have since been cancelled.
Mkhize also said this week that more Covid-19 infections were being reported among those aged 15 to 19, most likely because young people are hosting big parties, drinking and breaking the rules of social distancing.
“Because children are less likely to develop symptoms, they don’t think they’re sick and they carry on with their lives. Or, in many cases, a teenager may hide the fact that they are sick,” said Zühlke.
“If the Ballito Rage had been a bunch of preschoolers, it would not have resulted in so many problems.”
At the same time, Gray and her colleagues warn that it is not harmless for children to catch Covid-19 because those who get infected often experience lasting problems with their hearts and other internal organs.