Study Finds Kids May Carry COVID-19 at Higher Levels Than Previously Thought

“Our study was not designed to prove that younger children spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility.”
ByNehal Aggarwal
Associate Editor
Published
Aug 2020
image collage of coronavirus
Photo: RawPixel

A new study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has found that kids younger than 5 years old may carry the novel coronavirus at higher levels than previously thought.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that kids younger than 5 have at least as much as of the virus, and maybe more, in their noses and throats as infected adults and older children. The researchers believe that this young age group may transmit COVID-19 as much as other age groups, however this was never recognized due to the rapid closure of schools and daycares.

“We found that children under 5 with COVID-19 have a higher viral load than older children and adults, which may suggest greater transmission, as we see with respiratory syncytial virus, also known as RSV,” lead author Taylor Heald-Sargent, MD, PhD, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Lurie Children’s and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release. “This has important public health implications, especially during discussions on the safety of reopening schools and daycare.”

The study looked at 145 cases of mild to moderate COVID-19 infections within the first week of symptom onset. They compared the “viral load” of three age groups: kids younger than 5, kids aged 5 to 17 years old and adults 18 through 65 years old.

The study comes just as officials around the country are currently battling with whether or not to and how to open schools for the 2020-2021 school year.

“The school situation is so complicated — there are many nuances beyond just the scientific one,” Taylor Heald-Sargent told The New York Times. “We can’t assume that just because kids aren’t getting sick, or very sick, that they don’t have the virus.”

However she clarified, “Our study was not designed to prove that younger children spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility. We need to take that into account in efforts to reduce transmission as we continue to learn more about this virus.”

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