Children under the age of 3 are more likely to spread the coronavirus to siblings in their home than older children, according to a new study.
The findings, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, are especially sobering now that childhood COVID-19 cases are at their highest since the onset of the epidemic, when the new school year begins. They dispel the long-held assumption that children are less likely to spread the coronavirus because they are less likely to become seriously ill than adults.
Research does not, however, suggest that children are more contagious than adults.
“In a way, this is the opposite of what we were told before. “It just shows how modest it is to talk about children with this virus,” Dr. Edith Bracho Sanchez, a pediatrician and primary care assistant at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, told ABC News. “We always knew that children could get it, they could pass it on, they could get COVID. I think we are learning more and more about how much. ”
The researchers analyzed 6,280 Canadian households, where the first case of coronavirus at home occurred in someone under the age of 18. (These first infections are called “index cases”). They then measured how many members of the child were infected with the virus in each household between June and December 2020.
Babies and children were more likely to spread the coronavirus to others in their home, even though they accounted for only 12% of the cases included in the study. The next to be infected were children aged 4 to 8 years, followed by children aged 9 to 13 years.
Adolescents aged 14 to 17 years were the least likely to report COVID-19, although they accounted for the majority of cases (38%).
Why do babies and children spread the coronavirus more easily?
The viral load or the amount of virus found in someone’s upper respiratory tract is thought to play a role in facilitating the spread of coronavirus among humans. A number of studies have shown that younger children may have higher viral loads than adults.
A study published in July 2020 found that children under the age of 5 could accumulate up to 100 times more viruses in their noses than older children and adults, suggesting that children could be a significant driver of the virus. But other studies have found no significant differences in viral load, so the theory may not best explain the infection in children.
Children are also less likely to have symptoms when infected externally, so caregivers may not be aware of testing for them, suggesting that rates of transmission among children may be underestimated.
Another possible explanation is that infants and children need closer contact when they are sick than older children, which increases the likelihood that their caregivers will become infected.
But there are ways to reduce the risk of infection in homes with sick, dependent children.
“People who are born with small children are quite accustomed to spitting and caressing their shoulders. “There is no way out of it,” said Susan Coffin, Ph.D. in infectious disease at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “But using tissues, disposing of tissues, and cleaning hands immediately after helping to wipe a child’s nose are all that an infected or possibly infected child’s parent can do to help limit the spread of the disease.”
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