Young children carry higher levels of coronavirus

Henrietta Strickland
August 1, 2020

Research has been mixed on what role children play in the spread of COVID-19, complicated by school closures in the the spring, as well as that data on children has largely been limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says kids 2 years and older should wear a face mask over their mouths and noses to prevent viral spread, but that kids under 2 years old shouldn't "because of the danger of suffocation".

The team, led by Dr Taylor Heald-Sargent of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, observed "a 10-fold to 100-fold greater amount of SARS-CoV-2 in the upper respiratory tract of young children".

One recent study in South Korea found children aged 10 to 19 transmitted COVID-19 within households as much as adults, but children under nine transmitted the virus at lower rates.

The WHO had issued an advisory putting warning that children and the elderly are susceptible to COVID-19 and the danger of the disease hovers around their head in comparison to an average healthy adult.

While much attention has been focused on the volume of deaths caused by COVID-19, now that we are six months into this global pandemic researchers are beginning to see signs of chronic health problems in recovered patients.

Children below five years of age carry a large amount of coronavirus in their upper respiratory tract, according to a study reported in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. However, past studies on the coronavirus and children have reported a connection between higher levels of viral genetic material and its ability to turn into an infectious virus. The researchers analysed their nasal swab samples to reveal the amount of nucleic acid present.

'Our study was not created to prove that younger children spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility, ' said Heald-Sargent.

The authors state that this does not necessarily mean that children younger than five are more capable of passing the virus on to others, but suggest that the findings could influence the debate over the reopening of schools.

The most common heart-related abnormality in COVID-19 patients was myocardial or abnormal inflammation of the heart muscle, which can weaken it.

"Behavioral habits of young children and close quarters in school and daycare settings raise concern for SARS-CoV-2 amplification in this population as public health restrictions are eased", they wrote.

However, the study also noted that it had some limitations as the findings are not validated for the use in pediatric patients 18 years and younger. It was a small cohort study of only 145 patients and made no mention of underlying conditions, ethnicity or gender. The tests look for pieces of the virus's RNA, or genetic code, to make a diagnosis.

Yet, the study is significant enough for experts to take heed.

Regarding the public health implications of the findings, Heald-Sargent said this population of younger children will be important to immunize as vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 become available.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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