Children carry 100 times more SARS-CoV-2 virus as adults, study says

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to wreak havoc across the globe, it has been thought that children mostly seemed to be spared by severe illness. In the majority of cases, children infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) only develop a mild illness, with some tagged as asymptomatic.

Now, new evidence shows that children carry high levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus even without falling ill, which may impact the spread of the virus to others, especially those who are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19.

The team also found that infected children younger than 5 years old may carry up to 100 times as much of SARS-CoV-2 in their noses and throats as adults.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell (green) infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (purple), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID
Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell (green) infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (purple), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

Higher levels of viral genetic material

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, suggests the possibility that the youngest children transmit the virus as much as other groups, even if they only develop mild to moderate illness.

The study may highlight the ability of younger children to spread the virus to others, which could help revise current guidelines in containing the spread of the virus.

Children are susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2 but generally present with only mild symptoms compared to adults. Earlier reports did not find strong evidence of children as key drivers in the spread of SARS-CoV-2. However, school closures early in pandemic responses prevented large-scale investigations for schools as a source of community transmission.

To arrive at their findings, the research team from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, Chicago, and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, looked at swab samples from 95 children, a majority of whom reported cough or a low-grade fever in Chicago.

The team found that children under 5 with COVID-19 have higher levels of viral load than older children and adults, suggesting a risk of higher transmission, as seen in the respiratory syncytial virus, also called RSV. The team believes that the study findings are significant, especially during discussions on the safety of reopening schools and daycare.

"The observed differences in median CT values between young children and adults approximate a 10-fold to 100-fold greater amount of SARS-CoV-2 in the upper respiratory tract of young children," the researchers explained.

They added that the study is limited to the detection of viral nucleic acid, rather than an infectious virus. Also, studies in children about COVID-19 shows a correlation between higher nucleic acid levels and the ability to culture infectious virus.

One limitation of the study was, it was conducted at the time when lockdown measures were in place, and schools are closed. Hence, they had fewer opportunities to transmit. Further studies are needed to look at the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 in children.

"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," Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago," said.

Shape guidelines

The study may help shape current guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic, adding children as key drivers of SARS-CoV-2 spread in the general population. Also, younger children have behavioral habits that may increase the risk of transmission, such as playing with other kids in school. Also, close quarters in school and daycare settings raise concern for the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

The new information on how these children can transmit the virus may affect school opening in a few months. In addition to public health implications, children are essential for targeting vaccine efforts when they become available.

COVID-19 global toll

The global case toll tied to COVID-19 has topped 17.53 million, with more than 678,000 people who died due to the infection. The United States remains the nation hardest hit, surpassing 4.56 million cases and over 153,000 deaths, while Brazil has more than 2.66 million people, with over 92,000 deaths.

Source:

Heald-Sargent, T., Muller, Q., Zheng, et al. (2020). Age-Related Differences in Nasopharyngeal Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Levels in Patients With Mild to Moderate Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). JAMA Pediatrics. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2768952

COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) - https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

Citations

Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Laguipo, Angela. (2020, July 31). Children carry 100 times more SARS-CoV-2 virus as adults, study says. News-Medical. Retrieved on September 20, 2020 from https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200731/Children-carry-100-times-more-SARS-CoV-2-virus-as-adults-study-says.aspx.

  • MLA

    Laguipo, Angela. "Children carry 100 times more SARS-CoV-2 virus as adults, study says". News-Medical. 20 September 2020. <https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200731/Children-carry-100-times-more-SARS-CoV-2-virus-as-adults-study-says.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Laguipo, Angela. "Children carry 100 times more SARS-CoV-2 virus as adults, study says". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200731/Children-carry-100-times-more-SARS-CoV-2-virus-as-adults-study-says.aspx. (accessed September 20, 2020).

  • Harvard

    Laguipo, Angela. 2020. Children carry 100 times more SARS-CoV-2 virus as adults, study says. News-Medical, viewed 20 September 2020, https://www.news-medical.net/news/20200731/Children-carry-100-times-more-SARS-CoV-2-virus-as-adults-study-says.aspx.

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
You might also like... ×
Host gene editing main driving force of SARS-CoV-2 mutations