As the coronavirus pandemic lingers on, younger people are getting infected at alarming rates. Many of these individuals may test positive without winding up in the ICU or on a ventilator, but that’s not always the case. People in their 40s, 30s, 20s, and even younger can become severely ill due to infection. Some may even lose their life to the virus, especially if they have underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Whilst any death is a sad state of affairs, is the media to blame for seriously hyping up death outcomes in younger patients? There have been several reports of these cases over the last few weeks, including Andre Guest, who was just 16 when he passed away from COVID-19 earlier this week. The story (originally published by Kaiser Health News and repurposed by CNN) referred to Guest as “healthy” and reported that his family took certain precautions to prevent infection, but their story ended in tragedy all the same.
The reality was that Guest had type 1 diabetes, was considered obese, and his blood sugar was extremely high, all of which likely contributed to his death. This is just another example of how the virus is exposing certain health inequalities in our country, especially among African American children.
The coronavirus is evolving from a pandemic to an endemic. Until a vaccine becomes available, we all need to do our best to limit various risk factors, including avoiding large groups and unhealthy habits that make the body more vulnerable to COVID-19. It’s similar to risks associated with everything from HIV to STDs to influenza: If you want to lower your risk, you act accordingly and take precautions.
Learn more about Andre Guest’s tragic story and how we can prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Why Did Andre Guest Die?
Dawn Guest was taking every precaution to protect her family from the virus. As a registered nurse in Indianapolis, IN, she worked on the frontlines of the pandemic. Every night, she would slip off her shoes as soon as she walked in the door and headed upstairs to take a shower. The family would regularly disinfect surfaces, limit contact with outside visitors, wear masks, and practice social distancing as often as they could.
With school cancelled during the shutdown, Andre Guest had spent most of his time at home over the last few months. He was used to playing video games, playing with his siblings, and always had a smile on his face. After Dawn left for work one morning, Andre started looking lethargic. He was slurring his speech and couldn’t hold up his body. After he fell in the shower, his father called Dawn at work to tell them something was wrong with their son.
Andre soon wound up at Riley Hospital for Children, the closest emergency room. Doctors soon discovered that he had type 1 diabetes and his blood sugar was at 1,500 milligrams per deciliter, more than 10 times the normal amount. He also had a severe cough and shortness of breath, so they tested him for COVID-19, but the results came back negative.
However, doctors were still having trouble maintaining his blood sugar, even with insulin. His temperature was also rising dramatically as his breathing continued to deteriorate, despite supplements of oxygen. After another COVID-19 test, Andre finally tested positive. He was then transferred to a coronavirus ward.
After a few nerve-racking days, Andre ended up on a ventilator. Doctors even tried turning him on his stomach to increase the flow of oxygen. Many of his organs started failing, a common sign of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a new disease that’s been linked to the coronavirus in children and teens.
Although Andre was never officially diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, his blood sugar eventually spiked and his arterial line began to clot, which sent him into cardiac arrest. He died shortly after. He became Indiana’s first confirmed COVID-19 death under the age of 18.
CNN and People Magazine, among other media outlets, never should have referred to Andre as “healthy.” He suffered from a range of underlying health conditions – including obesity and undiagnosed type 1 diabetes – that made him more susceptible to COVID-19. His parents talked about his love of video games and making food in the middle of the night. He was also spending a lot of time indoors with school out of session.
Preventing exposure to the virus is important, but we also need to talk about unhealthy habits that can increase our risk of disease, such as poor diet, lack of exercise, too much refined sugar, and a lack of social interaction. While staying inside can help limit the spread of infection, it can also lead to a spike in blood sugar if these individuals aren’t getting enough exercise.
The coronavirus has changed our way of life, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore other health issues. In addition to wiping down surfaces and wearing masks, parents also need to make sure their children are staying healthy, so they can survive COVID-19 if they were to get infected.
Scientists are still learning about the virus and how it spreads, so everyone should be focused on their health right now. The case of Andre Guest shows us that taking precautions can only do so much to prevent infection. The healthier we all are, the more likely we will survive this deadly virus.
How to Prevent Cases Like These
Andre Guest is a stark reminder of how many children suffer from diabetes, poor diet, and a lack of exercise, all of which can complicate the coronavirus.
Type 1 and 2 diabetes are becoming increasingly common in the U.S, even among young people. According to the National Institute of Health, 29.1 million people are living with diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, and about 208,000 people younger than 20 years are living with diagnosed diabetes. The report also found:
- Across all racial/ethnic groups ages 0-19, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes increased in males by 2.2% and in females by 1.4% from 2003-2012.
- Among youth ages 0-19, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes increased most sharply in Hispanic youth, marking a 4.2% annual increase. In non-Hispanic blacks, the rate of new diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes increased by 2.2% and in non-Hispanic whites by 1.2% per year.
- According to the CDC, the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. is around 18.5% and affects about 13.7 million children and adolescents. Among this age group, Hispanics (25.8%) and non-Hispanic blacks (22.0%) had higher obesity prevalence than non-Hispanic whites (14.1%).
- Childhood obesity is also an economic issue. Obesity prevalence was 18.9% among children and adolescents aged 2-19 years in the lowest income group, 19.9% among those in the middle-income group, and 10.9% among those in the highest income group.
Guest was not diagnosed with type 1 diabetes until he arrived at the hospital with an infection. This is common in some healthcare settings. Diabetes may go undiagnosed for years. That’s why it’s important for providers to test for diseases regularly among younger patients.
Keep this information in mind when talking to your patients and families about the pandemic. It’s not just about wearing a face mask. It’s also about leading a healthy lifestyle, screening for chronic diseases in children, and reducing health inequalities in your community.
Don’t expect this endemic to let up anytime soon. As with any disease, we all need to know the risks. Maintain your blood sugar, exercise regularly, and be aware of any pre-existing conditions that may affect your chances of survival.