The school season is almost upon us, but instead of celebrating a quick home to a quiet break or buying school supplies, many parents are instead worrying about whether or not their children will be in the classroom from the coronavirus. And, of course, if they go back to school, there is the question of whether to bring the virus from home or not. Now, a new study is providing some initial insight into these questions. The study, outside the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, found that young children in particular carry much more of the coronavirus than adults. In fact, research has found up “100 times greater than SARS-CoV-2 in the upper respiratory tract of young children” under 5 years.
The new study, published in JAMA Pediatricsexamined 145 COVID-19 patients with mild to moderate disease within one week of the onset of their symptoms. The researchers compared three age groups: young children under 5, children between 5 and 17 years old, and adults 18 to 65 years old. While they found similar amounts of coronavirus present in older children and adults, in children under 5, they found 10 to 100 times more particles in the respiratory tract.
The research was led by Taylor Heald-Sargent, MD, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. In the report, Heald-Sargent and her team note that children often manage the spread of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases – and COVID-19 may be different.
“It definitely shows that children have virus levels similar to and perhaps even higher than adults,” Heald-Sargent said. The New York Times. “It wouldn’t be a surprise if they could throw [the virus]”and spread it to others. (Viral shedding indicates how long someone is getting rid of contaminated particles.” Evidence suggests that the new coronavirus is most contagious when symptoms are worse and viral shedding is high, “observes WebMD.)
Research notes that early school closures in a pandemic are likely to “hamper larger-scale investigations of schools as a source of community transmission.” In other words, we still do not know if schools are suffering from COVID-19 because we closed them in the first few weeks of the outbreak.
“The situation at school is so complicated – there are so many nuances beyond the scientific one,” Heald-Sargent said The Times.
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A recent study outside of South Korea – published in the CDC journal Emerging infectious diseases –looked at whether or not the children spread COVID-19. The researchers looked at 5,700 people who reported symptoms of coronavirus between January 20 and March 27, when South Korea closed schools. The findings indicate that those between the ages of 10 and 19 are most likely to spread the coronavirus in their homes.
“We found COVID-19 in 11.8 percent of home contacts; rates were higher for child contacts than adults,” the researchers said. About 19 percent of those who shared a home with sick patients in that age group of 10-19 also contracted COVID-19. Children younger than 10 years were least likely to spread the disease (about 5 percent of their contacts were sick). Therefore, there is evidence that children of a certain age are more infectious.
As for the new study, Heald-Sargent said The Times, “One thing that can be taken from this is that we can’t assume that just because children don’t walk, or are very sick, they don’t have the virus.” And for more on children and COVID, check out The 8 Most Likely Ways Children Spread COVID in School, Experts say.