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The L.A. death of a child from coronavirus is highly rare. Here's what we know

Los Angeles County reached another grim milestone amid the coronavirus pandemic Tuesday when health officials announced the first death of someone younger than 18.

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Experts have long said that older people are more susceptible to the virus and that young people in general are less likely to contract the illness. But health officials said Tuesday the death underscores the threat that coronavirus poses to the entire population.

“This is a devastating reminder that COVID-19 affects people of all ages,” L.A. County Public Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The Health Department was working to confirm how the minor contracted the virus and whether any underlying health issues exacerbated the illness. The agency also is also working to confirm whether the case marks the first such death of a minor linked to coronavirus in the country, but cases are not always broken down by age, said Tim Gilman, a representative for the department.

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The death toll in Los Angeles County now stands at 11.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released last week, there had been no coronavirus fatalities in the United States of people under 18. The report also said there had been no reported ICU admissions for people under 19.

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Age breakdowns

Overall, relatively few young people have tested positive in Los Angeles County. But the data show people between the ages of 18 and 65 have tested positive most often. (These number exclude Pasadena and Long Beach):

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0-17: 10
18-40: 268
41-65: 250
65+: 107

In Orange County, the numbers are similar:

0-17: 1
18-49: 87
50-64: 41
65+ 23

Here are the statewide age breakdowns, as of Monday:

0-17: 25
18-49: 837
50-64: 442
65+: 415
Unknown age: 14

Child risks

Overall, officials have said young children are at lesser risk than older people for contracting the coronavirus.

One possible reason why babies, toddlers and young children have not been critically threatened is because of their immature immune systems. An undeveloped immune system might prevent the body from triggering inflammation severe enough to result in pneumonia, septic shock or organ failure.

A sweeping review of 44,672 lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in China published in early March by Chinese authorities found that no deaths occurred among anyone younger than 10.

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Another study by experts in Wuhan, China — the epicenter of the outbreak — published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., sought to review all hospitalized infants diagnosed with COVID-19 infection between Dec. 8 and Feb. 6 in China.

By Feb. 6, there had been 31,211 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 637 fatalities. But the authors could find only nine infected babies who were hospitalized nationwide.

“None of the nine infants required intensive care or mechanical ventilation or had any severe complications,” the study said.

Four had fever, two had mild upper respiratory tract symptoms and one had no symptoms but tested positive for the virus because of the baby’s exposure to infected family. There were no symptoms available for the other two patients.

And a report published in the World Journal of Pediatrics, summarizing experts’ consensus on the coronavirus in children, also warned that people who have a “silent infection” are among the main sources of transmission for the illness.

“We also should attach importance to asymptomatic cases, which may play a critical role in the transmission process,” the report said. “Respiratory droplets and contact are the main transmission routes. Close contact with symptomatic cases and asymptomatic cases with silent infection are the main transmission routes of [novel coronavirus] infection in children.”

And while children are largely spared the worst effects of the coronavirus, the first reports to document COVID-19 deaths in children make clear that those under 18 are neither immune from infection nor completely spared from becoming very sick.

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In China, the novel coronavirus has claimed the lives of a 10-month-old and a 14-year-old, at least.

Times staff writers Luke Money and Melissa Healy contributed to this report.

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