Mild symptoms were present in half of the 2,143 children in the study

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Although the number of children infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) has remained low since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in late December, a small percentage of children have become seriously ill.

In a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, scientists examined 2,143 infected children under the age of 18 in China that were reported to the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Feb. 8.

About half of the children had mild symptoms: fever, fatigue, cough, congestion and possibly nausea or diarrhea.

More than a third, around 39 percent, were moderately sick, with additional symptoms including pneumonia or lung problems.

About four percent of the children had no symptoms had all, the study found.

But about 125 children, around 6 percent, developed very serious illnesses. One 14-year-old boy that tested positive for the coronavirus died, and 13 of the children were considered in “critical” condition, meaning they were on the brink of respiratory or organ failure.

Children wearing face masks cross a road during a Lunar New Year of the Rat public holiday in Hong Kong on January 27, 2020
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“Effectively, what this tells us is that hospitals should prepare for some pediatric patients because we can’t rule out children altogether,” said Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.

Murthy added, “The main conclusion is that children are infected at rates that may be comparable to adults, with severity that’s much less, but that even within the kids, there’s a spectrum of illness and there’s a handful that require more aggressive therapy.”

The study showed that of the 125 severely ill children, more than 60 percent were age 5 or younger. Forty of them were infants.

Shilu Tong, the study’s senior author, said it was likely that younger children were more sick than older children because their respiratory systems were still developing.

Coronavirus outbreak and stock shortage in Hong Kong
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The researchers also theorized that children are less susceptible to the virus than adults due to the ACE2 receptor, to which the viral cells bind in the human body.

“It might not be as developed in children as in adults,” Dr. Murthy said.

The study was unable to determine if the United States can expect similar low numbers of children with coronavirus or if the country should expect more than China.

As of Wednesday morning, there have been at least 201,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus globally and 8,204 deaths, over half of which have come from mainland China, according to the New York Times.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.