A small study raises questions as to whether small children could be coronavirus super spreaders, even though the country is considering how schools will reopen in the coming weeks.
But how contagious are children? And could reopening schools lead to more outbreaks in the community if children (and teachers) in classrooms are exposed to COVID-19 and then spread the virus to their families? A small Chicago study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics renews such questions, suggesting that young children infected with COVID-19 carry at least as much virus as adults – if not much, much more .
Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, analyzed 145 nasal swabs from patients with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 within a week of the appearance of symptoms. Her team tested the samples for the genetic parts of the virus (RNA). And they found that older children and adults had similar amounts of the viral genetic material that can be extrapolated to measure how much live virus they carried. (Living virus cultures are used in research environments, not in clinical settings like this, which is why they went this route.)
The most alarming result, however, was that children under the age of 5 had significantly more viral genetic material in their noses – 10 to 100 times more than older children and adults.
"People thought maybe (young children) couldn't get infected, and that's not the case. They are definitely getting infected," Heald-Sargent told MarketWatch. "And once they're infected, they have a lot of virus."
There are some limitations to this report: it is a small study that did not examine samples of live viruses, but rather the genetic material that the virus leaves behind.
Neither was the portability measured in the study, so these results do not demonstrate that children are more contagious. However, there is more evidence that children can actually be infected with COVID-19, suggesting that they can also spread it.
"There was suspicion that children were actually not passing it on to adults, which would be a good thing, but I don't think we can maintain that hope," said Dr. Sunil Sood, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from Northwell Health & # 39; s Southside Hospital, which was not part of the study, MarketWatch said.
"I don't see any biological reason why they wouldn't be contagious," he continued. "Why should this virus be different from other respiratory viruses – even coronaviruses that cause colds? Children often transfer them to other children and adults. Why should this virus be different? "
Of course, this virus has proven to be different in almost every round – from the growing list of symptoms to the number of asymptomatic patients who could unwittingly carry the virus – which has made it so difficult to control.
"It's so confusing," said Heald-Sargent. "We learn more every day, so it's difficult to weigh each data item on your own. You have to take it together."
Her work is in line with research from France and Germany. A recent study in Germany with 47 children between 1 and 11 years infected with COVID-19 showed that even asymptomatic children had a viral load that was equivalent, if not higher, than that of adults. A French study also found that children without symptoms have a similar COVID-19 viral load as children with symptoms.
And in May, another JAMA study found that children under the age of 4 were largely responsible for the spread of the respiratory syncytial virus (commonly known as RSV) in adults over 65. "We know with certainty that children spread RSV," Sood told MarketWatch. While it mainly occurs in younger children, he found that it can cause severe cases of pneumonia in the elderly.
"I think our article adds (to the discussion about children and coronavirus) this answer as to whether children can become infected. You can, ”said Heald-Sargent. "We don't know that they are spreading it, but we have to be careful. This does not mean that schools cannot open. We just have to be safe."
"This paper should make it clear to all skeptical parents that children must wear masks to make them less likely to spread the virus to others," added Sood. "You may have a high virus count in your nose without being very sick yourself."
The CDC states on its website that children do not appear to be at higher risk of COVID-19 than adults based on the evidence available. However, caution is advised: "The more people interact with children and the longer this interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading."
To ensure the safety of families, the CDC recommends practicing good hygiene, e.g. For example: washing hands frequently; Daily cleaning and disinfection of touch-sensitive surfaces; and wash clothes and plush toys as needed. It is also recommended to practice social distancing with children: avoiding people who are sick, sneezing or coughing; Keep at least one meter away from other people outside your household. Children over the age of 2 wear fabric face masks in public environments where it is difficult to follow social distances. Guidelines for reopening schools include wearing masks, spreading desks at least one meter apart, and canceling group activities such as choirs and gatherings.
The CDC also stated that "decisions about how to safely open and operate schools should be made based on local needs and conditions."
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