Children are capable of transmitting the novel coronavirus, two new international studies claim.
Over the course of the pandemic, fewer children compared to adults have fallen ill and, when they are infected, their symptoms are milder. But it’s been unclear if they can spread the virus to adults.
Now, researchers in China and Germany say they have found evidence that youngsters can continue the transmission chain.
Experts say the findings bolster the case for why schools should stay closed until at least the Fall 2020 semester, even as President Donald Trump urged states to consider opening schools before the summer.
In the first study, published in the journal Science, an international team looked at two Chinese cities, Shanghai and Wuhan, which is where the virus originated.
They found that children were one-third as vulnerable as adults to catching COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
However, while schools are open, children under age 14 had triple the number of contacts as adults, and a three-fold number of opportunities to come into contact.
Researchers say that, based on their findings, proactive school closures can lower a peak in cases by 40 percent to 60 percent and delay the epidemic.
‘My simulation shows that yes, if you reopen the schools, you’ll see a big increase in the reproduction number, which is exactly what you don’t want,’ corresponding author Dr Marco Ajelli, of the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, Italy, told The New York Times.
The second study, published online pre-peer review, was conducted by a group of German researchers and one from the University of Cambridge in the UK.
The team found that children can carry as high levels of the coronavirus in their bodies as adults can.
Researchers also examined 47 COVID-19 cases in children between ages one and 11, and found 15 either had a existing disease or had been hospitalized.
Asymptomatic children had viral loads as high or higher than symptomatic children or adults.
‘Based on these results, we have to caution against an unlimited re-opening of schools and kindergartens in the present situation,’ the authors wrote.
‘Children may be as infectious as adults.’
It comes on the heels of news that the US National Institutes of Health is launching a trial to track pediatric infections.
The study, called Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2 (HEROS), will also examine whether infections rates differ between children who have asthma or other allergic conditions and children who do not.
Around 6,000 people from 2,000 American families already participating in NIH research will be enrolled in the project.
‘One interesting feature of this novel coronavirus pandemic is that very few children have become sick with COVID-19 compared to adults,’ Dr Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the country, said in a statement.
‘Is this because children are resistant to infection with SARS-CoV-2, or because they are infected but do not develop symptoms? The HEROS study will help us begin to answer these and other key questions.’
Worldwide, more than 3.61 million people have been infected and more than 256,000 people have died.