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‘By far the worst virus I have ever endured’: Olympic gold medalist Cameron van der Burgh, 31, on contracting the coronavirus

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The notion that coronavirus is “just a cold” or “no worse than the flu” for young people is proving to be untrue.

In New York state, where there are now more confirmed coronavirus cases than in France or South Korea, nearly 54% of hospitalized coronavirus patients are between 18 and 49, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said.

In New York, there were more than 26,000 confirmed cases. Cuomo said Tuesday that the number of cases in New York was doubling every three days, and the infections could peak in 2-3 weeks, sooner than predicted, putting an even greater strain on the health-care system.

Among the latest fatalities: A 36-year-old public school principal from New York City, where there are more than 10,000 cases of coronavirus, died from coronavirus complication on Monday, the New York Post reported. It is not known whether she had any preexisting conditions.

Younger people are being hospitalized at unexpectedly high rates, particularly in New York State.

In the U.S., people under 44 make up 20% of hospitalized coronavirus patients, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week. Patients under 65 accounted for nearly half of those admitted to hospital intensive-care units for COVID-19.

In Atlanta, a 12-year-old girl was placed on a ventilator days and fighting for her life after she was diagnosed with pneumonia brought on by a coronavirus infection. The girl, only known only as “Emma” due to privacy laws, had no prexisting conditions, her cousin Justin Anthony told CNN.

The CDC has not publicly reported the median age of coronavirus cases in the U.S. In California, the most populace state in the U.S., the median age is 47, the state’s health department reported last week: 42% of the state’s 1,733 cases of coronavirus are between ages 18 to 49.

The CDC’s study doesn’t account for patients with underlying health conditions like obesity, diabetes and cancer which increase the likelihood of contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. But there have also been cases of young people who were in peak physical health.

Other millennials around the world have shared their experiences of what it was like to contract coronavirus. Cameron van der Burgh, 31, an Olympic gold-medalist swimmer from South Africa, says he has been battling coronavirus for the past two weeks.

“Although the most severe symptoms(extreme fever) have eased, I am still struggling with serious fatigue and a residual cough that I can’t shake. Any physical activity like walking leaves me exhausted for hours,” he wrote on Twitter TWTR, +3.28%

“By far the worst virus I have ever endured despite being a healthy individual with strong lungs (no smoking/sport), living a healthy lifestyle and being young (least at risk demographic),” he added.“Please, look after yourself everyone! Health comes first — COVID-19 is no joke!” he added.

Van der Burgh and other millennials were believed to be less prone to developing serious health complications from coronavirus. But as the virus continues to spread in countries outside of China, where it originated, younger people are being hospitalized at unexpectedly high rates.

COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the official name for this new coronavirus, had infected at least 49,768 people in the U.S. by Tuesday afternoon and killed at least 600, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

Worldwide, there were 407,485 confirmed cases and 18,227 deaths; 104,234 people have recovered.

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“We do have an issue with younger people who are not complying,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said last week. He is working on issuing an order to reduce New York City park density, where nearly half of the state’s cases exist .

What’s behind the number of young people with coronavirus?

So what’s the reason behind these cases? The fast-paced lifestyles of some young people, eating habits in the U.S. and the number of young adults not practicing social distancing may help explain why early data in China differs from the U.S. and Europe, experts suggest.

Data from China, where the pandemic originated, suggested that people in their 70s and 80s were most likely to die from the disease, and as coronavirus arrived in the U.S, health officials warned older people to take extra precautions to avoid infection.

“Disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild with approximately 2.4% of the total reported cases reported [1,342 people] amongst individuals aged under 19 years. A very small proportion of those aged under 19 years have developed severe (2.5%) or critical disease (0.2%),” the World Health Organization reported last month.

‘We do have an issue with younger people who are not complying.’

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo talking about the prevalence of ‘social distancing’ among young people

Those figures were reassuring to many parents and young people, but they may also have led more young adults to believe they were virtually immune from coming down with more severe symptoms and, as a result, less likely to change their lifestyles to prevent the virus spreading.

“We do have an issue with younger people who are not complying,” Cuomo said last week. “So you’re not Superman, and you’re not Superwoman, you can get this virus and you can transfer the virus and you can wind up hurting someone who you love or hurting someone wholly inadvertently.”

In Italy, where the number of deaths has surpassed the number in China, the median age of those who have died is 80. But as the virus continues to spread in countries outside of China, younger people are being hospitalized at unexpectedly high rates.

But that does not explain many of the severe cases among the young. Indeed, while age may be one of the most convenient factors to study, it can be misleading, said Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious-disease expert and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota.

“You take an extremely healthy 16-year-old boy from South Korea who plays soccer and has a vegetarian diet and doesn’t do any drugs, and compare that to a 16-year-old obese type-two diabetic kid in the U.S. and you’re talking about two different ages.”

In the U.S., 18.5% (13.7 million) people between the ages of two and 19 are obese according to the CDC. That figure rises to 42.7% for all adults. When an obese person has difficulty breathing, their lungs won’t expand as much as a healthy person’s lungs, Poland said.

“No one ever heard of this virus prior to 11 weeks ago so we’re really building the plane while flying it,” Poland said. To complicate matters further, China does not have a history of transparency, he added. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out about more severe deaths in kids.”

In China, 51 is the median age of coronavirus cases, according to February’s WHO report. In Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, 39 of the 45 designated hospitals there were reserved for patients either in severe condition or older than 65 years old.