(Reuters) – Children younger than five carried large amounts of coronavirus in the upper respiratory tract, a small study published on Thursday showed, raising new questions about whether children can infect others.
Data on children as sources of coronavirus spread are scarce, and early reports found no strong evidence of children as major contributors to the deadly virus that has killed 669,632 people globally.
Understanding the potential for transmission to children will be essential to developing public health guidelines, said the researchers who published the study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Between March 23 and April 27, 2020, a research team from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University tested collections of swabs from hospitals, dispensaries, the emergency department, and drive test sites in agoikago, Illinois.
The study included 145 individuals aged between one month and 65 years with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were studied in three groups – children under five years, children 5 to 17 years and adults 18 to 65 years. .
Their analyzes suggest that young children had a viral load 10 times in 100-fold greater than adults in the upper respiratory tract.
Viral loads in older children with COVID-19 are similar to levels in adults. This study found higher amounts of viral nucleic acid – the genetic code for proteins to produce new viruses – in children younger than 5 years.
The study looked only at viral nucleic acid and not the infectious virus, which means it is not clear if children would spread the virus.
However, the prevalence of young children worries about their behavioral habits and their proximity to schools and day care centers as public health restrictions have been eased, the researchers said.
In addition to the public health implications, the researchers said the results could help focus on this population while targeting immunization efforts when COVID-19 vaccines become available.
(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Aurora Ellis)