More than half of Americans have had covid, including three in four children | Coronavirus

More than half of Americans show signs of a previous Covid-19 infection, including three in four children, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) come after researchers examined blood samples from more than 200,000 Americans and searched for antibodies that fight the virus from infections, not vaccines. They found that signs of past infection increased dramatically between December and February, when the most contagious variant of Omicron emerged in the US.

For Americans of all ages, about 34% had signs of prior infection in December. Just two months later, 58% did.

“I expected it to increase. I didn’t expect it to get that high,” said Dr. Kristie Clarke, co-leader of a CDC team tracking the extent of coronavirus infections.

In the CDC report, the most striking increase was in children. The percentage of those under 17 with antibodies increased from around 45% in December to around 75% in February.

A boy sits on a bed in a hospital room playing with Play-Doh with a medical worker wearing a gown, mask and gloves.  A man watches in the background.
The percentage of children who had coronavirus antibodies increased from 45% in December to around 75% in February. Photograph: Hannah Beier/Reuters

The older people were, the less likely they were to have evidence of past infections. That may be because older adults have higher vaccination rates and are more likely to take other precautions against Covid-19, such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds, Clarke said.

Reported cases had a big spike in December and January, then fell almost as dramatically as they had risen. But daily case counts have been rising again in recent weeks.

The number of cases is believed to be an undercount, but authorities believe the recent increases reflect a true rise in infections. Many Covid-19 infections are mild enough that patients do not seek care or confirmatory lab tests. CDC officials say they plan to release a study soon that estimates there have been three infections for every reported case in recent months.

Another recent trend: US health officials say they have seen two weeks of increases in Covid-19 hospitalizations, though the numbers remain relatively low. Hospital admissions are about 1,600 a day, a 9% increase from the previous week, the CDC reported.

However, the available evidence offers reason to be hopeful about how the pandemic is faring, officials suggested.

“We are not anticipating more severe disease from some of these subvariants, but we are actively studying them,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said Tuesday.

The study looked for any detectable level of antibodies; it did not distinguish how many people had levels of antibodies that might be protective. Scientists are still trying to understand what role these types of antibodies play in protecting against future virus exposures.

Officials continue to urge Americans to get vaccinated and booster shots, which offer additional protection against Covid-19 for everyone, including those who were already infected.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

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