The College Tribune spoke to Professor Peter Doran, leader of University College Dublin’s (UCD) School of Medicine’s Covid-19 Research Group, who has called the recent correlation between young people and the spread of Covid-19 “a worry” and warned of “devastating” health risks amid reports that new cases are increasingly occurring among those under-25.

Last Thursday, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) reported that all new cases of Covid-19 reported on that day were among those aged under 44, and 77% were under 25 years old. Professor Doran, who is also the leader of UCD’s Clinical Research Centre, has said “the recent rise in cases in younger people is a worry. It is therefore vital that everyone continue to follow the public health advice and be part of the continued effort to suppress and eliminate this disease.” 

Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, the National Virus Laboratory Director, Dr Cillian De Gascun, warned that most people are catching the disease from meeting others outside their own household. Dr De Gascun advised young people to avoid house parties after it emerged that a cluster of cases had recently arisen from a microphone used for karaoke at a house party in County Derry. “If a young person arrived at a party and saw there was unsafe behaviour, they should turn around and go home and instead organise to meet their friends for a coffee.”

Considering these reports, Professor Doran has warned of the “clear” and potentially “devastating” health risk to young people posed by the virus. He said: “This is a consequential infection that, even in young patients, can cause severe illness, and sometimes death. We are also now beginning to understand the long-term impacts of the disease, which is something I am very concerned about for the young, who following infection may have lifelong complications.”

Such increases in cases among young people have similarly raised concerns over the risks relating to community transmission this week. Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Corinna Sadlier, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at Cork University Hospital, warned young people will interact with other age groups and risk spreading the virus to more vulnerable people – “We all interact with each other, they have parents, they have grandparents and it’s only a matter of time really if the virus increases before it spreads to age groups in which people are more likely to experience more severe disease.”

On behalf of Professor Tim Lynch, Vice Principal for Health Affairs at UCD, the office of UCD Health Affairs’ told The College Tribune that its advice to students advocates “for everyone to act responsibly in the fight against COVID-19 – following government guidelines closely to reduce exposure to the virus, both for their own health and for the health of their loved ones.” The advice echoes Professor Doran saying “COVID-19 can cause serious illness in both young and old. We still need to learn more about the virus and how it behaves in the Irish population. To do this we urgently need to establish a COVID-19 biobank to store samples from people (young and old) with and without the virus to allow us to study the biology of the virus and plan for the second wave of infection in the Irish population.”

In light of these concerns, Professor Doran has acknowledged the impact of the onset of Covid-19 “on everyone, not least our students” and urged anyone who is struggling to reach out. “As a Parent, I have seen first-hand the impact of lockdown, the lack of social contact and the prevailing uncertainty.”

He “urge[s] anyone who is feeling anxious or isolated to reach out to your friends, to the support services in the university or indeed to your lecturers as we are all in this together and are stronger when we support one another.”

Gemma Farrell – Reporter