Worrying new research has revealed children could be carrying higher coronavirus loads in their airways than infected adults being admitted to intensive care units.
A study led by the Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Hospital for Children suggests children played a larger role in the spread of coronavirus than what was originally believed.
Of 192 children aged between 0 and 22 involved in the study, 49 tested positive for coronavirus while 18 had late-onset coronavirus-related illness.
The study revealed the children who were infected had a higher level of coronavirus in their airways compared to infected adults who were admitted to ICU.
The study published in The Journal of Paediatrics said it revealed that children could be a potential source of contagion in the pandemic “in spite of milder disease or lack of symptoms”.
“As schools plan for re-opening, debates around the role children play in the COVID-19 pandemic persist,” the study said.
“Concerns have been raised as to whether allowing children to congregate in the classroom will fuel the spread of the pandemic.
“On an individual level, families are worried how SARS-CoV-2 infection could affect their children and family.
“Particular concern is elevated for families belonging to low socio-economic classes, where the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection is higher, and where multi-generational co-habitation is the norm, increasing the risk of transmitting the infection to vulnerable grandparents and older adults.”
The study said it was unclear how children contributed to the spread of the virus, but claimed asymptomatic carriers could spread it to their household.
Lead author of the study, Lael Yonker, said the findings revealing the high levels of the virus in children of all ages was “surprising”.
“I was not expecting the viral load to be so high. You think of a hospital, and of all of the precautions taken to treat severely ill adults, but the viral loads of these hospitalised patients are significantly lower than a ‘healthy child’ who is walking around with a high SARS-CoV-2 viral load,” Dr Yonker told the Harvard Gazette.
According to the doctor, the risk of transmitting the virus and of contagion is greater with a high viral load.
Dr Alessio Fasano, a senior author of the study, told the Harvard Gazette kids were not immune from coronavirus.
“Our results show that kids are not protected against this virus. We should not discount children as potential spreaders for this virus,” he said.
The study concluded a fast return to schools during the pandemic could cause a spike in coronavirus infections.
“If schools were to reopen fully without necessary precautions, it is likely that children will play a larger role in the pandemic,” the authors wrote.
In Australia, Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy does not believe children are high transmitters of the virus and said there is little risk to young people.
“We think that children are not high transmitters of this virus in the school environment,” he said in May.
“We have always said there is a potential risk for adults, in the staff room, adult interactions at the school, pick ups and drop off.”
He added with Victoria currently home schooling, it was a decision based on the state’s desire to stop movement rather than any concerns over the safety of children.
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