(Reuters) - Some young and healthy people in the United States who have contracted the new coronavirus are becoming seriously ill, the top U.S. official on infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, told NBA star Stephen Curry in an interview on Thursday.
Many falsely believe the virus, which has killed more than 1,000 people in the United States, is only a threat to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, Fauci told the basketball player in a live interview aimed at reaching a younger audience via social media.
While it is true that the elderly and those suffering from conditions like lung disease and diabetes have a far greater risk of dying, some young people who have contracted it have also become very sick, he said.
“What we are starting to see is that there are some people who are younger, people your age - young, healthy, vigorous - who don’t have any underlying conditions who are getting seriously ill,” Fauci said.
“It’s still a very, very small minority, but it doesn’t mean that young people like yourself should say, ‘I’m completely exempt from any risk of getting seriously ill,’” Fauci told the 32-year-old Golden State Warriors guard.
He stressed that young people need to adhere to social distancing and other steps designed to slow the spread of the virus both to protect themselves and to prevent other, more vulnerable people from contracting it.
“You need to protect yourself because you are not completely exempt from serious illness,” he said.
“And you can become the vector, or the carrier of infection, where you get infected, you feel well and then you inadvertently and innocently pass it on to your grandfather, your grandmother or an uncle who is on chemotherapy for cancer.”
“That’s what we’ve got to be careful of.”
The Centers for Disease Control on Thursday said that 38% of U.S. coronavirus patients sick enough to be hospitalized were between the ages of 20 and 54.
The pandemic has upended everyday life in much of the United States and brought professional sports leagues, including the NBA, to a halt.
Asked when leagues may be able to return to action, Fauci said it will depend on how quickly the United States can slow the rate of infection.
“What you need to see is the trajectory of the curve start to come down” as health officials are seeing now in China and South Korea, but not in hard-hit Italy, he said.
“We can start thinking about getting back to some degree of normality when the country as a whole has turned that corner.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Aurora Ellis