Children under the age of five can harbor up to 100 times as much coronavirus in the nose and throat as infected adults and older children, according to a Chicago study.
“Our analyzes suggest that children younger than 5 years of age with mild to moderate COVID-19 have high amounts of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in their nasopharynx compared to older children and adults,” the researchers stated in the study published in JAMA. Pediatrics on Thursday.
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“Young children can be potentially important drivers of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the general population, as has been shown with respiratory syncytial virus, where children with high viral loads are more likely to transmit,” they wrote.
The authors stated in the report that, although their findings did not prove that children infected with COVID-19 were contagious, other pediatric studies found a correlation between the presence of higher levels of nucleic acid with the ability to grow the infectious virus.
The study was conducted between March 23 and April 27 and was led by Taylor Heald-Sargent of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. One hundred and forty-five patients were separated into three groups according to their ages. These groups included: 48 adults, ages 18 to 65, 51 children ages 5 to 17, and 46 children younger than 5 years.
The team of researchers conducted nasal swab tests on patients who showed mild to moderate onset of COVID-19 symptoms within one week. In the end, the researchers found that “young children have equivalent or more viral nucleic acid in the upper respiratory tract compared to older children and adults,” the study authors wrote.
The authors also stated in their report that differences in the material found in the tests revealed “10 to 100 times more SARS-CoV-2 in the upper respiratory tract of young children.”
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The findings deny previous beliefs that children did not play a role in coronavirus transmission, they said, noting that “closing schools early in pandemic responses thwarted large-scale research by schools as a source of community spread”.
The findings reveal the importance of understanding the transmission potential in children, especially as schools reopen.
“The behavioral habits of young children and gated communities at school and daycare increase concern about the amplification of SARS-CoV-2 in this population as public health restrictions are eased,” they wrote. “In addition to the public health implications, this population will be important to focus on immunization efforts as SARS-CoV-2 vaccines become available.”