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Almost 60% of the U.S. population has been infected with coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced in a report released Tuesday.
The CDC also found 75% of U.S. children and adolescents showed serologic evidence of previous COVID-19 infection and that approximately one-third became newly positive since December 2021.
«The findings illustrate a high infection rate for the omicron variant, especially among children,» the study’s authors wrote in the report.
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According to the report, researchers tested blood samples of tens of thousands Americans every four weeks, from September 2021–February 2022. The scientists analyzed the samples for detectable levels of anti-nucleocapsid (anti-N) antibodies, which are produced in response to COVID-19 infection, not from vaccines. They did not distinguish what antibody levels might be considered protective and noted that scientists are still trying to gain an understanding of the role these antibodies play in protecting from future exposure to coronavirus.
They found during the study’s period that, overall, 34% of people showed evidence of prior infection in December and by February that rate increased to 58%.
A vial of Regeneron monoclonal antibody. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton, File)
During the period from December through February, the researchers found an alarmingly sharp increase in the number of those with antibodies in children and adolescents. Percentages jumped from nearly 45% in December to almost 75% in February in those 17 and under. That was when the omicron variant was prevalent in the U.S., according to the report.
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Dr. Kristie Clarke, the co-leader of a CDC team tracking the extent of coronavirus infections, was quoted in multiple media reports and said, «I did expect it to increase. I did not expect it to increase quite this much.»
«We are not anticipating more severe disease from some of these subvariants, but we are actively studying them,» CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday.
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Their findings also revealed that during the December-February period, the prevalence of antibodies increased from 36.5% to over 63% in adults aged 18-49 years old, and from nearly 29% to almost 50% in those 50-64 years of age during that same period. In those over 65, numbers increased from approximately 19% to just over 33%, the report said. This lower prevalence of antibodies in the older age group may be related to increased use of precautions (masks, social distancing) and being vaccinated, the report noted.
Information signs displayed at a store in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, in February 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)
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Although some studies showed previous infection may protect some individuals against severe disease and hospitalization from COVID-19, the CDC officials stressed the importance of getting vaccines and boosters to offer additional protection against coronavirus, and noted that those who were infected should still be vaccinated against COVID-19.
«Seropositivity for anti-N antibodies should not be interpreted as protection from future infection. Vaccination remains the safest strategy for preventing complications from SARS-CoV-2 infection, including hospitalization among children and adults,» the officials wrote in the CDC report.
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Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told Fox News, «The omicron variants, especially BA.2, are very highly contagious, and thus have infected many people, including those with prior vaccination and/or natural immunity. Hence, many more people have now become infected, although fortunately, because of prior vaccination and immunity, we are not seeing significant increases in hospitalizations.»
Glatt, an epidemiologist and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in New York, added, «In addition, there are now therapies available to treat early COVID in the highest-risk patients, further reducing severe illness.»