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For our weekly update on the progress of research on Covid-19, we are interested in a population that is the subject of debate: that of adolescents and young adults. In Catalonia, Canada and France, the proportion of 15-35 year olds among the contaminated seems to be increasing. Is it due to a relaxation on their part? Or is the virus adapting to this population? Lighting by Nicolas Rocca from the France Sciences department of RFI.
Why do young people worry health authorities?
This is because more of them seem to contract the virus than when the epidemic arrived. In France, Olivier Véran, the Minister of Health, called on young people to be vigilant in the face of what he called a “relaxation”. He said that screening campaigns showed an upward trend in this population. But it is a finding that is also made in other countries: in Canada, 20-39 year olds are now the most affected age group. Since June 8 they represent almost 40% of new cases.
How to explain this increase in the number of cases among young people?
One hypothesis would be that the virus has mutated and adapted to younger people. ” I don’t believe it for a minute, However, Professor Eric Caumes, head of the infectious diseases department of the Pitié Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, assures us. The virus mutates, it’s true, but from the start there were young people who were infected. In the epidemic peak of March-April, they were not hospitalized. But here we are dealing with the fact that the elderly protect themselves, pay attention, go out little and are vigilant about wearing a mask. Young people are contaminated in a much more important way. »
It is their more active social life, and a form of relaxation, which would cause the spread of the virus. The 15-35 year olds often have few or no symptoms and this favors contamination. Party circles are highly criticized by the health authorities, but for all that, these outbreaks remain very much in the minority … For example in France, the epidemic outbreaks identified from private gatherings only represent 5% of cases, transmissions during meetings of family or work remain clearly in the majority.
How can we limit contamination among young people?
The communications and decisions of the authorities in Catalonia and France aim in particular to limit gatherings outside. In Brittany, for example, some beaches or parks have been closed to avoid evenings for young people. But these measures are considered unnecessary by Professor Eric Caumes.
« The Chinese have done a study on their clusters. And of the 300 or so studied, only one was due to an external event. I do not believe that it is by preventing access to the beaches that we will get there. On the contrary, there is a risk of aggravating the phenomenon. The young people instead of meeting on the beaches or on the terrace will meet in apartments. And there the risks of contamination will be major. If we want to do something effective, we must ban gatherings of more than five people as the Belgians do. »
If this age group is less vigilant, it is because the virus is less fatal for adolescents and young adults than for their elders. However, for them as for others, caution remains in order
First of all, significant contamination in young people can have an impact on mortality, because it increases the chance of contamination of people at risk, for example during family gatherings. And then being young and well does not prevent recovery from a Covid-19 infection from being complicated. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US health agency, in 26% of young adults at least one symptom of Covid persists three weeks after infection. The risks of relapse or prolonged illness also exist for this age group.