Children under five years old can have up to 100 times as much coronavirus in the nose and throat as infected adults and older children, according to a Chicago study.
“Our analysis suggests that children under 5 years of age with mild to moderate COVID-19 have high levels of SARS-CoV-2 virus RNA in the nasopharynx compared to older children and adults,” the researchers said on Thursday in JAMA Pediatrics published study.
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“Young children can potentially be important drivers of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the general population, as shown by the respiratory syncytial virus, in which children with high viral loads are more likely to transmit,”
The authors stated in the report that although their results did not prove that the children infected with COVID-19 were contagious, other pediatric studies found a correlation between the presence of higher levels of nucleic acid and the ability to cultivate the infectious virus.
The study was conducted between March 23 and April 27 and was led by Taylor Heald-Sargent of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. One hundred and forty-five patients were divided into three groups depending on their age. These groups included: 48 adults aged 18 to 65, 51 children aged 5 to 17, and 46 children under 5 years.
The research team performed nasal swab tests on patients who experienced mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 within a week. In the end, the researchers found that “small children have equivalent or more viral nucleic acids in their upper airways compared to older children and adults,” the study authors wrote.
The authors also stated in their report that the differences in the material found in the tests showed “a 10- to 100-fold higher amount of SARS-CoV-2 in the upper respiratory tract of infants”.
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The results disprove previous beliefs that children played no major role in coronavirus transmission and found that “early school closings in pandemic responses thwarted major school examinations as a source of community transmission.”
The results show how important it is to understand the transmission potential in children – especially when reopening schools.
“The behavioral habits of young children and the proximity to schools and daycare centers raise concerns about SARS-CoV-2 reinforcement in this population as the restrictions on public health are relaxed,” they write. “In addition to the public health impact, this population will be important to target vaccination efforts as SARS-CoV-2 vaccines become available.”