Medical

Scientists discover possible reason kids better at battling COVID-19

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The U.S. surpassed 200,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday yet children 18 and younger account for just one-third of 1% of this group. 

So, why is their infection so much less severe compared to adults? Doctors were wondering why, but now there may be an answer.

News 8 spoke with Dr. Kevan Herold, a professor and immunobiologist at Yale University, about his recent discovery

Gillis: We’re talking about how COVID-19 affects children less than adults and how it could be related to two specific molecules they exhibit in their lungs. What are these molecules? And it’s interesting because why would children have more than adults when their immune system isn’t fully developed?

Herold: The reason we started this research is because most of what’s been published on COVID-19 has focused on adults and many times adults do poorly. But it has been recognized since the very beginning that kids tended to do very well. So the question was why do kids do so well?

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Some people have postulated that it’s because they don’t get infected. But the other hypothesis is maybe they have an immune response that is better able to contain the virus in some way. And to our surprise what we found was that two cytokines–which are products of immune cells–called IL-17A and INF-g were actually at higher levels in children compared to adults. 

Now there are a variety of other cytokines that are measured and for those who had more severe disease we found–just as others have–that those were elevated. But the surprise here is that these two cytokines were actually higher in the kids compared to older individuals. 

Gillis: And…why?

Herold: The “why” of course is the important question. One of the findings from our paper was that when we looked at the cells that most people think make these products, called T-lymphocytes and are types of immune cells, we didn’t find they were made in response to the virus. And what we’ve postulated is that it’s cells within the lung that are able to make these products. 

Our data is basically saying: “We don’t see them in the peripheral blood” so the speculation must be that they are in the lungs. And we’re wondering if that may set up a protective response in the children. So, the big question, of course, is: Is there a way to stimulate that response early on and could result in a more benign course with COVID-19?

Gillis: Might these two molecules play a larger role than antibodies?

Herold: That’s an interesting question because there were differences in the antibody responses in children compared to adults and our data suggests that the adults had a more robust antibody response, which is somewhat counterintuitive. But then there are the multi-system inflammatory syndrome patients. And these children present after they’ve been exposed or had COVID-19. They all had antibodies against COVID-19–at least the patients that we studied. But they didn’t have the same lung disease that children who initially presented the infection and were hospitalized with the coronavirus. So, what exactly is going on in those patients I think still needs to be evaluated further. But they also had higher levels of the molecules IL-17A and INF-g. So, whether that represents a successful protective response or perhaps one that is comes afterwards and is too late…we’re not sure. 

Gillis: These molecules decline with age? Do we know the rate of decline?

Herold: We don’t know the rate. But when we looked older individuals when they present…the levels really are very mild. And it’s really only those younger than age 22 where we saw the increased levels. 

Gillis:  Could this be like convalescent plasma where we take these molecules and then we can inject them into a COVID-19 infected patient? Is that a possibility?

Herold: One of the limitations of the study is we don’t know whether these molecules we’ve identified are markers or the cause of the better immune response in children and that’s a really important question that needs to be answered. It could be that what it’s doing is telling us about cells in the lungs that may be able to mount a good immune response against COVID-19 rather than the direct cause of the good immune response. 

So, I don’t think anyone would advocate giving these molecules directly, but it may be possible–someway or another–to activate that immune response early on, perhaps in an older individual, which may help them better cope with the virus.

Gillis: Would you share with us your future research?

Herold: We’re very interested in further exploring these cells and if there are other cells that might be very active in children and are not as active in adults that may be responsible for successful containment of the coronavirus. One of the problems is it’s not easy to get a hold of lung tissue and so we’re trying to figure out other ways to get cells that may provide us some clues as to which cells are responsible for containing the virus. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.

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Indiana coronavirus timeline

With updated information from the Indiana Department of Health through Oct. 18, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.

  • March 6: Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) confirms the first case in Indiana. Officials say the Marion County resident had recently traveled to Boston to attend a BioGen conference as a contractor.
  • March 8: ISDH confirms a second case. An adult in Hendricks County who had also traveled to the BioGen conference was placed in isolation. Noblesville Schools say a parent and that parent’s children will be self-quarantining after attending an out-of-state event where someone else tested positive.
  • March 9: Avon Community School Corp. says a student on March 8 tested positive.
  • March 10: ISDH launches an online tracker. Ball State University basketball fans learn the Mid-American Conference tourney will have no fans in the stands. Three businesses operating nursing homes in Indiana announce they will no longer allow visitors.
  • March 11: The Indianapolis-based NCAA announces the Final Four basketball tournaments will be conducted with essential staff and limited family attendance. The Big Ten announces all sports events, including the men’s basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, will have no fans starting March 12. Ball State University suspends in-person classes the rest of the spring semester. NBA suspends all games, including the Indiana Pacers, until further notice. Butler University and the University of Indianapolis extend spring break, after which they will have virtual classes.
  • March 12: Gov. Eric Holcomb announces new protections that led to extended public school closings and the cancellation of large events across the state. The NCAA cancels its basketball tournaments. The Big Ten suspends all sporting events through the winter and spring seasons. The league including the Indy Fuel hockey team suspends its season. Indy Eleven says it will reschedule four matches. Indianapolis’ annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is canceled. 
  • March 13: The Indiana High School Athletic Association postpones the boys basketball tournament. Wayzata Home Products, a Connersville cabinet maker, shuts down and lays off its entire workforce due to market uncertainty. Gov. Holcomb announces actions including the elimination of Medicaid co-pays for COVID-19 testing and the lifting of limits on the number of work hours per day for drivers of commercial vehicles. Franklin College says it will begin online classes March 18 and empty residence halls of students in two days. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis closes indefinitely. The Indianapolis Public Library joins other libraries across Indiana and closes all facilities indefinitely.
  • March 14: The Indiana Gaming Commission says all licensed gaming and racing operations will close in two days for an indefinite period.
  • March 15: Indiana had its first death. St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis announces it will suspend all elective, non-urgent surgeries.
  • March 16: Indiana had its second death. Gov. Holcomb announced the first Hoosier death. He closes bars, restaurants and nightclubs to in-person patrons, but maintains carryout and delivery services.
  • March 17: Indiana had its third and fourth deaths. ISDH announces Indiana’s second death. Indiana’s Catholic bishops cancel masses indefinitely. Gov. Holcomb activates the National Guard. Purdue, Butler and Indiana State universities cancel May commencement ceremonies.
  • March 18: Indiana had its fifth death. Eli Lilly and Co. says it will use its labs to speed up testing in Indiana. The 500 Festival suspends all events. Simon Property Group closes all malls and retail properties.
  • March 19: Gov. Holcomb extends Indiana’s state of emergency into May. Holcomb says he’ll close all K-12 public and nonpublic schools. Standardized testing was canceled. The state’s income-tax and corporate-tax payment deadline was extended to July 15. Holcomb says the state will waive job search requirements for people applying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament was canceled. The Marion County Emergency Operations Center upgrades to Level 1 status.
  • March 20: Indiana’s death toll rose to 9. ISDH announces Indiana’s third death. Gov. Holcomb moves the state’s primary election to June 2. Indiana University says it is postponing May commencement ceremonies on all campuses.
  • March 21: Indiana’s death toll rises to 14. ISDH announces Indiana’s fourth death. Indiana National Guard says it and the Department of Transportation are distributing medical supplies to hospitals.
  • March 22: Indiana’s death toll rises to 19. ISDH announces seven deaths.
  • March 23: Indiana’s death toll rises to 24. Holcomb orders Hoosiers deemed nonessential to “stay at home” from March 24-April 7. Eli Lilly & Co. begins drive-thru testing for the coronavirus for health care workers with a doctor’s order. Ball State University cancels the May commencement.
  • March 24: Indiana’s death toll rises to 29. Fred Payne of Indiana Workforce Development says any Hoosiers out of work, including temporary layoffs, are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.
  • March 25: Indiana’s death toll rises to 35. Indianapolis Motor Speedway announces the Indianapolis 500 is moved to Aug. 23.
  • March 26: Indiana’s death toll rises to 44.
  • March 27: Indiana’s death toll rises to 47.
  • March 28: Indiana’s death toll rises to 58.
  • March 29: Indiana’s death toll rises to 76.
  • March 30: Indiana’s death toll rises to 91.
  • March 31: Indiana’s death toll rises above 100, to 113. Gov. Holcomb extends the limits of bars and restaurants to offer only “to go” and “carryout” through April 6. Indiana health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box, asked about when Indiana will be in a surge of COVID-19 cases, says she thinks the surge is starting.
  • April 1: Officials extend Marion County’s “stay at home” order through May 1. Marion County health officials say they will start COVID-19 testing services for front-line employees.
  • April 2: The state announces K-12 schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. The Indiana High School Athletic Association cancels spring sports seasons.
  • April 3: Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. The state receives a federal Major Disaster Declaration for all 92 counties. The Indiana National Guard says it, the Army Corps of Engineers and state health officials will begin to assess sites for alternate health care facilities.
  • April 4: Indiana’s death toll rises above 200.
  • April 6: The state reports a Madison County nursing home has had 11 deaths. Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. He also limits additional businesses to carry-out only.
  • April 7: Indiana’s death toll rises above 300. Indiana health commissioner Box says four long-term care facilities have 22 deaths that appear to be related to COVID-19.
  • April 10: ISDH said 24 residents of a long-term care facility in Madison County have died from COVID-related illness.
  • April 11: Indiana’s death toll rises above 400.
  • April 14: Indiana’s death toll rises above 500.
  • April 16: Indiana records more than 10,000 positive coronavirus tests. The governor says he expects Indiana to experience a reopening in early May.
  • April 17: Indiana’s death toll rises above 600. The governor says that he will extend the “stay at home” order through May 1.
  • April 20: Indiana’s death toll rises above 700. Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order to May 1. The governor also says, if the medical supply chain is in good shape, other elective medical procedures can resume April 27.
  • April 22: Indiana’s death toll rises above 800. The Tyson facility in Logansport voluntarily closes so 2,200 employees can be tested for COVID-19.
  • April 24: Indiana’s death toll rises above 900. The Indianapolis City-County Council approves $25 million to help small businesses. Fishers City Council creates a city health department with a plan to test every resident.
  • April 25: ISDH says it will launch an antibody testing study for Hoosiers; thousands of residents were randomly selected to participate in the study.
  • April 27: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,000.
  • April 28: Indiana officials say they will open COVID-19 testing to more Hoosiers, with expanded criteria and new testing services at 20 sites around the state.
  • April 29: The state says it will spent $43 million on contact tracing.
  • April 30: Indianapolis extends its stay-at-home order through May 15.
  • May 1: Gov. Holcomb announces a phased reopening plan for the state of Indiana. He also extends the stay-at-home order to May 4.
  • May 3: Indiana records more than 20,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • May 4: Indiana enters Stage 2 of its Back on Track plan, which excludes Cass County until May 18, and Lake and Marion counties until May 11.
  • May 6:The state begins testing for all Hoosiers at 20 sites, with plans to expand the number of sites to 50 in a week. Ivy Tech Community College says it will continue virtual classes when summer courses begin in June. 
  • May 8: Cris Johnston, director of the Office of Budget and Management, says the state missed out on nearly $1 billion in anticipated April revenues; all state agencies will be given budget-cutting goals. Purdue University OKs plans to reopen for the fall semester with social distancing and other safety measures.
  • May 10: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,500.
  • May 13: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,600.The first phase of a state-sponsored study of the coronavirus estimated about 186,000 Hoosiers had COVID-19 or the antibodies for the novel virus by May 1. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced plans for limited reopenings of worship services, retail establishments, libraries and restaurants.
  • May 15: Simon Property Group reopens Castleton Square Mall, Circle Centre Mall, and Fashion Mall at Keystone
  • May 16: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,700.
  • May 17: Marion County’s death toll rises above 500.
  • May 18: Indiana reports its first case of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in a child. The Farbest Foods turkey-processing plant in Huntingburg is closed for three days; 91 people had tested positive there.
  • May 19: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,800.
  • May 21: Indiana records more than 30,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • May 22: Indiana advances to Stage 3 of the Back on Track reopening plan. Indianapolis closes portions of five streets to allow restaurants to reopen with outdoor dining only.
  • May 23: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,900.
  • May 27: The U.S. death toll rises above 100,000. Indiana University says the fall semester will have in-person and online courses, plus an adjusted calendar through May 2021. Ball State University says the fall semester will be 13 straight weeks of in-person classes with no day off on Labor Day and no fall break.
  • May 28: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,000.
  • May 29: Places of worship in Marion County can begin holding indoor services at 50% capacity with proper social distancing. Jim Schellinger, Indiana secretary of commerce, said the federal Paycheck Protection Program has made 73,430 loans in Indiana totaling $9,379,164,461, the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program has made 5,070 loans in Indiana totaling $445,428,500, and the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans Advance program has made 38,365 grants in Indiana totaling $136,554,000.
  • June 1: Marion County restaurants begins serving customers indoors and outdoors with 50% capacity. Marion County salons, tattoo parlors reopen by appointment only. Marion County gyms, fitness centers and pools reopen with 50% capacity and no contact sports. However, a Marion County curfew that began the night of May 31 and continued into the morning of June 3 after rioting impacted the reopening of some businesses.
  • June 2: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,100.
  • June 3: Phase 2 of statewide testing of random Hoosiers by the Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI and the Indiana State Department of Health begins.
  • June 5: Indiana reports May tax revenues were 20% short of projections made before the coronavirus closings started.
  • June 8: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,200. Indianapolis leaders agree to spend $79 million in coronavirus relief funding on contact tracing, rent relief, personal protective equipment and support for small businesses.
  • June 12: Indiana, excluding Marion County, advances to Stage 4 of reopening plan.
  • June 14: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,300.
  • June 15: Casinos and parimutuel racing reopen in the state. Marion County’s public libraries begin a phased reopening.
  • June 19: Marion County advances to Stage 4 of state’s reopening plan.
  • June 20: Indiana’s death toll rises to 2,400.
  • June 24: The governor says the state’s moratorium on the eviction on renters will be extended through July. Indiana announces it will create a rental assistance program July 13. Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon says he has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • June 27: Indiana hospitalizations for COVID-19 begin to increase, with about 33 new patients a day through July 1.
  • July 1: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,500. The governor pauses Stage 5 final reopening plan, announces Stage 4.5 from July 4-17.
  • July 4: Indiana’s Stage 4.5 reopening plan begins.
  • July 9: Indiana records more than 50,000 positive coronavirus tests. Marion County mandates mask-wearing.
  • July 10: Indianapolis Public Schools announces its reopening plans.
  • July 11: Indy Eleven resumes 2020 season with victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis reopens.
  • July 12: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,600.
  • July 13: Indiana begins rental assistance program for all counties but Marion County. Marion County begins its own rental assistance program.
  • July 15: Indiana announces the Stage 4.5 reopening plan will continue another two weeks. The WNBA season will begin.
  • July 16: Indianapolis suspends applications for its rental assistance program due to overwhelming demand.
  • July 22: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,700.
  • July 23: Indiana records more than 60,000 positive coronavirus tests. MLB begins delayed season.
  • July 24: Bars, taverns and nightclubs in Indianapolis are shut down again. City officials also return to other previous restrictions.
  • July 25: Indiana Fever begins WNBA season after delays.
  • July 27: Indiana governor’s order to wear face coverings begins. Great Lakes Valley Conference, which including University of Indianapolis, postpones most fall sports, including football, men’s and women’s soccer, and volleyball, until spring.
  • July 30: NBA season resumes.
  • Aug. 2: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,800.
  • Aug. 4: Indianapolis Motor Speedway announces the Aug. 23 Indianapolis 500 will be run without fans.
  • Aug. 5: With more than 1,000 positive tests reported in a single day, Indiana jumps to a total of 70,993 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Aug. 10: Indiana records more than 75,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Aug. 11: The Big Ten announces it won’t play football this fall.
  • Aug. 12: Indiana’s death toll rises above 2,900. With more than 1,000 positive tests reported in a single day, Indiana records more than 77,000 positive coronavirus tests. Delta Middle School and Delta High School were closed through Aug. 24 after 228 students went into quarantine; students were moved to e-learning.
  • Aug. 13: With more than 1,000 positive tests reported in a single day, Indiana records more than 78,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Aug. 14: With more than 1,000 positive tests reported in a single day, Indiana records more than 79,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Aug. 17: Indianapolis Public Schools restarts with online-only classes. News 8 learns the 2021 NBA All-Star Game will not happen on Presidents Day weekend in 2021.
  • Aug. 20: Indiana’s death toll rises above 3,000. Purdue University suspends 36 students after a party at a co-op.
  • Aug. 21: Indiana high school football season begins with some teams not playing due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • Aug. 23: Butler University tells undergraduates that instruction will occur remotely for the first two weeks of the semester, starting Aug. 24, instead of in classrooms.
  • Aug. 24: Purdue, Indiana, IUPUI and Ball State universities resume in-person classes.
  • Aug. 25: Reports say a fraternity, a sorority and a cooperative house at Purdue University are under quarantines.
  • Aug. 26: Indiana records more than 90,000 positive coronavirus tests. Gov. Holcomb extends the mask mandate through Sept. 25. Indiana’s rental assistance program will take applications for one last day.
  • Aug. 27: Indiana University says eight Greek houses are under 14-day quarantines.
  • Aug. 30: Indiana’s death toll rises above 3,100.
  • Sept. 2: Indiana records more than 96,000 positive coronavirus tests. Indiana University tells 30 Greek houses in Bloomington to quarantine.
  • Sept. 6: Indiana records more than 100,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Sept. 8: Marion County allows bars and nightclubs to reopen with 25% capacity indoors and 50% capacity outdoors.
  • Sept. 9: Indiana’s death toll rises above 3,200.
  • Sept. 12: Indiana records more than 105,000 positive coronavirus tests. The Indianapolis Colts open their season with a loss in a Jacksonville stadium with a limited number of fans.
  • Sept. 18: Indiana records more than 110,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Sept. 19: Indiana’s death toll rises to 3,300.
  • Sept. 21: The Indianapolis Colts home opener is limited to 2,500 fans.
  • Sept. 23: Gov. Eric Holcomb extends the mask mandate through Oct. 17.
  • Sept. 24: Indiana records more than 115,000 positive coronavirus tests. The state’s mask mandate is extended through Oct. 17.
  • Sept. 25: The Mid-American Conference announces it will start a six-game football season Nov. 4, with the championship game Dec. 18 or 19.
  • Sept. 26: Indiana advances to a revised Stage 5 of Indiana Back on Track plan with relaxed limits on gatherings, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and more. Marion, Monroe and Tippecanoe counties decided to have more restrictive limits, however.
  • Sept. 27: Indiana’s death toll rises to 3,400. The Indianapolis Colts second home game is limited to 7,500 fans.
  • Sept. 28: Purdue University says it’s suspended 14 students, including 13 student-athletes, for violations of a pledge designed to curb the coronavirus pandemic on campus.
  • Sept. 30: The Indiana State Department of Health’s online coronavirus dashboard began showing data on positive coronavirus cases in Indiana schools.
  • Oct. 1: IU’s website shows two additional fraternities and a sorority at the Bloomington campus have been issued “cease and desist” orders.
  • Oct. 2: Franklin College suspends classes and moves to virtual education and activities through Oct. 9 after a “concerning and unusual” increase in the positivity rate for COVID-19.
  • Oct. 3: Indiana records more than 125,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Oct. 4: Indiana’s death toll rises above 3,500.
  • Oct. 10: Indiana’s death toll rises to 3,600.
  • Oct. 11: Indiana records more than 136,000 positive coronavirus tests.
  • Oct. 12: Indiana records more than 138,000 positive coronavirus tests. Franklin College returns to in-person classes.
  • Oct. 13: With 1,153 new cases, Indiana records more than 139,000 positive coronavirus tests. Indianapolis-based drugmaker Lilly pauses its trial of a combination antibody treatment for coronavirus for safety reasons.
  • Oct. 14: With 1,929 new cases, Indiana records more than 141,000 positive coronavirus tests. Indiana health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box announces she has tested posivitve for COVID-19.
  • Oct. 15: With 2,301 new cases, Indiana records more than 143,000 positive coronavirus tests. Gov. Holcomb issues executive order to extend mask mandate and Stage 5 reopening plan.
  • Oct. 16: Indiana’s death toll rises above 3,700. With nearly 2,500 new cases, Indiana records more than 145,000 positive coronavirus cases.
  • Oct. 17: With 1,627 new cases, Indiana records more than 147,000 positive coronavirus cases.
  • Oct. 18: With 1,589 new cases, Indiana records more than 149,000 positive coronavirus cases. The Indianapolis Colts third home game was limited to 12,500 fans.
  • Oct. 23: The Big Ten will begin football season.
  • Nov. 4: The Mid-American Conference football teams will begin their six-game regular season.
  • Nov. 8: The Indianapolis Colts fourth home game will be limited to 12,500 fans.
  • Nov. 14: Indiana mask mandate set to expire.
  • Nov. 25: The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball seasons will begin the day before Thanksgiving with no fans in the stands.

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