Comparing age and sex differences in SARS-CoV-2 hospitalization and mortality with MERS-CoV, seasonal coronaviruses, influenza and other health outcomes opens the way to generating hypotheses as to underlying mechanisms driving disease risk. Using 60-year-olds as a reference age group, we find that relative rates of hospitalization and mortality associated with the emergent coronaviruses are lower during childhood and start to increase earlier (around puberty) as compared with influenza and seasonal coronaviruses. The changing distribution of disease risk by age for emerging pathogens appears to broadly track the gradual deterioration of the immune system (immunosenescence), which starts around puberty. By contrast, differences in severe disease risk by age from endemic pathogens are more decoupled from the immune ageing process. Intriguingly, age-specific sex differences in hospitalizations are largely similar across endemic and emerging infections. We discuss potential mechanisms that may be associated with these patterns.
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