President Donald Trump was censored on Facebook and Twitter after saying children are “almost immune” to COVID-19. What do the facts say?
We know with certainty that children are less likely to develop the coronavirus, and recent evidence indicates that they are less likely to be infected.
What is less clear is how much they spread the virus once it is infected.
– Children rarely get seriously ill –
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), under 18-year-olds caused only two percent of COVID-19 cases in hospital and less than 0.1 percent of all deaths in the United States.
Between February 1 and August 1, a total of 45 children died from the coronavirus in the United States – compared to 105 children who died from seasonal flu – out of a total of 13,000 children who died from all causes during the reporting period.
If they contract the virus, children are far less likely to become seriously ill than adults.
An informative study of 2,143 confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus in children in China found that 94 percent of cases were asymptomatic, mild, or moderate.
Those children who get sick often have underlying diseases. One study found that all 10 pediatric patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Chicago in March and April either had pre-existing medical conditions or co-infections.
The bottom line is that children are much less likely to get sick and die of COVID-19 than adults, although that doesn’t mean they are immune.
Some limited research shows that infants (under one) may have a slightly higher risk than older children.
It should be emphasized that at the beginning of the pandemic it was not obvious that children are less susceptible to COVID-19, as children are more susceptible to severe flu cases.
There is also a very rare post-viral disease called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) that can develop about a month after SARS-CoV-2 infection and causes multiple organs to become painful to inflame.
By July 15, the CDC had reported 342 cases and six deaths – a mortality rate of less than two percent. The median age was eight years, and 70 percent of the cases occurred in Hispanic or black children.
– They seem less likely to contract the virus. –
The next question is whether children are the main drivers of virus transmission. This breaks down into two parts: 1) How easily do you get infected? 2) How far do you spread the virus when you have it?
There are now several studies on the first part that actually indicate that children, especially younger children, are less likely to be infected.
Icelandic researchers selected just over 13,000 people for virus screening, including around 850 children under 10. The overall prevalence of the coronavirus was 0.8 percent, but no children under the age of 10 were infected.
Similar surveys in Spain, Italy and Switzerland all had similar results, noting that children had a much lower proportion of infections than adults.
However, this remains an area of ongoing study.
In the United States, the leader in infectious diseases, Anthony Fauci, is conducting a study on infection and transmission rates in children and adults. The results are expected by December.
– We don’t know yet how contagious children are –
This is perhaps the most pressing issue as the authorities are considering when and how schools should be reopened.
If children are the main spreaders, they can cause new outbreaks in their homes and communities – and unfortunately the evidence on this point is currently inconsistent.
A Chicago study released last week found that children under five years of age had between 10 and 100 times more viral nucleic acids in their nose than adults.
Because this genetic material makes the virus grow in laboratories, the authors suggested that children are likely important drivers of transmission.
This hypothesis deserves further investigation, but has not yet been proven.
Another way to approach the problem is through the epidemiological lens – what happened in real life?
On the one hand, spectacular clusters have broken out – for example, in a summer camp in the US state of Georgia, in which hundreds of exposed children were infected, who slept together in large dormitories.
Israel too was a cautionary story with outbreaks in multiple schools infecting hundreds of students, teachers and relatives.
Conversely, a large study in South Korea has shown that children under the age of 10 infect household contacts much less often than children over the age of 10 and adults.
As for possible reasons why children seem less infected – no one knows exactly, but there are ideas.
Perhaps the virus cannot bind to children’s cell receptors as easily.
Another theory that gains traction is that the body’s T cells – white blood cells that fight infections – remind us of the four coronaviruses that cause the cold and then cause cross-immunity.
Since children often have a cold, they may have more immunity than adults.
The hypothesis has yet to be checked through extensive screening.
ia / ec
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