Bay Area baby’s death from COVID ‘unbelievably rare’

Dr. Bela Matyas called Solano County’s first infant death related to COVID “very, very rare.”

The county’s public health officer said the child “was a very young infant who passed away from pneumonia that was caused by COVID,” adding that the child “appeared to not have any underlying health issues and was an otherwise healthy child. It’s a tragic situation where the child was unfortunately one of those rare individuals who is essentially healthy and should recover well but doesn’t.”

Because of policy and the family’s privacy, Matyas declined to provide the city of the baby’s residency, gender or demographics.

Whether COVID or any disease, “we’re typically able to identify people at higher risk, but it’s not always an exclusive risk. That’s what this represents. Unfortunately, there are exceptions,” Matyas said.

The baby succumbed to the Delta variant of COVID and not the latest variant, Omicon, said Matyas.

It’s likely the child came in contact with someone asymptomatic, said Matyas, “but, because of the timing, there’s no way” to know exactly when the child came in contact with someone who had COVID.

The child was hospitalized for several weeks and died in the mid-November, said Matyas.

“We’re talking about a small respiratory tract when dealing with an infant. It doesn’t take a lot of exposure to the virus. When you handle an infant, it’s typically very close to your face when you’re coddling, hugging and so forth,” Matyas said. “That’s the scenario where asymptomatic is more likely to occur than from across the room.”

The immediate cause of death would be respiratory failure due to pneumonia, due to COVID, said Matyas, emphasizing “again, it’s unbelievably rare” for an infant to die from COVID.

“There are so many cases of COVID in the country and, so far, the number of infants that have died is so small. Very, very rare,” Matyas said.

While infants can’t be vaccinated, “what people can do is make sure the family is vaccinated,” Matyas said.

An infant “inherits a lot of immunity from its mom and that immunity will stay with it for the first six to nine months,” he said.

Some diseases and conditions are inherited or acquired.

“Children are exposed to viruses all the time,” the doctor said. “It’s uncommon to develop life-threatening illnesses with exception of childhood diseases which is why we vaccinate.”

“The average child exposed to COVID doesn’t develop symptoms. That’s how strong their immune system is,” Matyas said, emphasizing that the rareness of an infant’s death from the virus “is no solace to the family.”

Matyas was grateful that the latest variant, Omicon, appears to spread quicker than Delta but is less dangerous, explaining that virus cell’s purpose is to reproduce and spread to the next person. Mutated versions occur and are typically “really poor at infecting the next person, so they (the virus) just dies off. Once in a great while, a variant is more effective than the version you got infected with.”

From Delta emerged Omicon, which “goes around more quickly and becomes newly dominant,” Matyas said. “And Omicon will continue to change. We’ll have more variants than there are letters in the Greek alphabet. The good news is that almost all will not survive. The hope is that the variant that becomes easily transmitted will also become weaker.”

Matyas foresees a COVID booster recommended annually with the vaccine changing much like the season flu vaccine. However, while it takes six months to develop a new flu vaccine, it only takes a month to create a new COVID vaccine.

While COVID’s mRNA vaccine is manufactured in the laboratory, the flu vaccine “is grown on eggs and cultures take time to grow, so it’s a much more laborious process,” Matyas said.

“We’re studying COVID like no other disease,” Matyas said. “It’s sort of creating a model to research emerging pathogens.”

Much like the seasonal flu, Matyas believes COVID will also rear its annual head during the late fall and winter months “and we’ll have a different group of strains to worry about every year.”

Wearing masks “I think for a few years is going to be the cultural norm October to March,” said Matyas. “I don’t know if it’ll be a mandate, but I think it’ll be a mandate for those in healthcare. I’m almost certain of that.”