In theory, young people with CFS and orthostatic intolerance (plus or minus some form of hypermobility) should not be at greatly increased risk of severe coronavirus disease compared to others their age, provided they don’t have untreated respiratory conditions like asthma.
The data from China and from the state of Washington both suggest that not only do children and adolescents have milder disease and fewer hospitalizations, but they also seem to get the coronavirus less frequently. Only 1% of the known cases in China were children, even though children represent 20% of the Chinese population. That is a curious phenomenon, and might ultimately prove to be due to the fact that the young people were asymptomatic and didn't go in with illnesses that would warrant testing. In any event, it speaks to the milder nature of the illness in younger people.
The epidemiologic data suggest a marked increase in disease severity for each decade above 50-60, especially for those with lung disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high blood pressure, and diabetes. So, my pediatric and young adult patients should be relatively protected from severe disease because of their younger age. They also know more than most about social isolation and avoiding illness than most of the general public, so they have much to teach others about how to manage. That said, we don’t have all the facts to make good decisions yet. All I can tell you is that I have not had anyone from my clinic develop coronavirus thus far, acknowledging that we are early in the pandemic.
I completely agree with being cautious. The more we can do now to prevent person-to-person spread, the less likely we will be to replicate the Italian experience where the hospitals are overwhelmed. Using all of the CDC recommendations makes good sense (hand washing, elbow bumps, sanitizer, social isolation, avoiding crowds). On the issue of using face masks, I differ from some of my medical colleagues. Many of their comments are an attempt to deal with limited supply of face masks. But, we are all advised in the hospital to don a face mask when dealing with patients who have respiratory symptoms. So, as a protective measure I would wear a mask in public even though the official recommendation is that it won’t stop the spread of droplets of virus. I suspect it will stop at least some droplets, but the neglected point about facemasks is that they help remind you to not touch your face and inoculate the nasal passages with virus from your hands. They may also create a bit of social isolation, as people will keep their distance from anyone wearing a mask! Some people have been sewing their own facemasks, in an effort to help address the shortages. This is an amazingly positive effort.
My Pediatric Pulmonary colleagues do not think asthma will be a big risk factor, based on their reading of the evidence. Similarly, we don’t think EDS and mast cell activation will necessarily confer an increased risk.
Most classes have been cancelled by now. For those who are working, I would try to work remotely, especially in the next couple of weeks. This might be acting in an overly cautious manner, but I think none of us have to apologize for being overly cautious at this juncture.
The key at this stage is to be very rigid and strict about complying with the recommendations for social distancing and isolation. Remind your friends and family (skeptical or not) that this is no joke, and that lives depend on us pulling together like we all did in response to 9/11/2001. We can do this!
Peter Rowe, MD
Director, Children's Center Chronic Fatigue Clinic
John Hopkins University School of Medicine
Professor of Pediatrics
Adolescent Medicine, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Orthostatic Intolerance, Pediatrics, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Syncope
Chronic fatigue syndrome; Fibromyalgia; Elhers-Danlos Syndrome; Orthostatic intolerance syndromes; Gulf War illnesses; Pelvic congestion syndrome
Edited by edriscoll