Are Children Coronavirus Super-Spreaders? Recent Studies Explain
Children and Coronavirus
As the country hotly deliberates how to safely reopen daycares and schools amid the coronavirus pandemic that’s completely turned our lives upside down, new emerging studies come with troubling information.
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The studies, one carried out in South Korea and the other one in Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, back up the same hypothesis: children can get infected with SARS-CoV-2 and can efficiently spread it to other people. In fact, according to the research team at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, not only do older children and adults had on par amounts of the viral genetic material but children under 5 had 10 to 100 times more viral genetic load compared to older children and adults.
“People thought maybe [young children] can’t get infected, and that is not the case. They definitely do get infected,” informed Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist involved in the study at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “And once they get infected, they have rip-roaring amounts of virus.”
In support of this theory, a recent study of 47 COVID-19 infected children aged 1 to 11 conducted in Germany, revealed that even asymptomatic children had similar or higher viral genetic material compared to adults.
Just how contagious are children?
One of the few positive aspects (if we can call it that) of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that very few children have been falling ill. This dreadful virus that has infected more than 17 million people all over the world seems to be sparing most children. Those who did get infected experienced mild symptoms such as respiratory distress and had underlying conditions. “For the most part, kids seem to have milder symptoms than adults,” explained Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and CEO of Happiest Baby. “However, there have been some cases where kids get really sick.”
Although children are less likely to contract the novel coronavirus, they are not as resilient as previously thought. More than that, as the new studies suggest, they can spread the virus even if they themselves are not sick. “There has been some suspicion that kids may actually not transmit it to adults, which would be a good thing, but I do not think we can hold out that hope,” Dr. Sunil Sood, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from Northwell Health’s Southside Hospital.
“I see no biological reason why they wouldn’t be contagious,” he added. “Why would this virus be different from other respiratory viruses — even coronaviruses that cause common colds? Kids transmit them to other kids and adults commonly, so why would this virus be any different?”
That being said, some health experts do not believe that children are major super-spreaders but emphasize the need to protect them the same way adults protect themselves. “Children should physically distance, and those who are 2 years old and older should wear a mask. Children should practice hand hygiene correctly and frequently, just like adults,” agreed Dr. Jennifer E. Schuster, pediatric infectious diseases physician at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Missouri,.
According to the CDC, based on what health experts have been able to find out after 8 months of coronavirus, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 compared to adults. However, “the more people children interact with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”
If children do get infected, studies suggest that the chances of spreading the virus to other children and adults are 22,4 percent, compared to the rate of transmission of adults aged 30 to 50, which is 11 percent. In most cases, children would transmit the virus to other family members within the household.
All in all, “COVID-19 is a serious disease,” Schuster warned. “Although children are at a lower likelihood to have serious illness, many people in the community do get very sick. It is everyone’s responsibility to help decrease the spread of COVID-19, including children.”