(Reuters) – Children under the age of five carried large amounts of coronavirus in their upper respiratory tract, according to a small study published Thursday that raises new questions about whether children can infect others.
Data on children as sources of coronavirus distribution are scarce, and early reports found no serious evidence of children being the main carriers of the deadly virus, which killed 669,632 people worldwide.
Between March 23 and April 27, 2020, a research team from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University tested tampon collections from inpatient, outpatient, emergency departments, and test sites in Chicago, Illinois.
The study included 145 people aged between one month and 65 years with mild to moderate COVID-19, who were studied in three groups – children under five years of age, children from 5 to 17 years of age and adults from 18 to 65 years of age. .
Their analysis suggests that young children had a viral load 10 times to 100 times greater than adults in their upper respiratory tract.
Viral loads in older children with COVID-19 are similar to those in adults. This study found higher levels of viral nucleic acid – the genetic codes of proteins to produce new viruses – in children under 5 years of age.
The study looked at only viral nucleic acid, not an infectious virus, which means it’s not clear if children will spread the virus.
However, the prevalence among young children raises concerns about their behavioral habits and their proximity to schools and children’s centers, as public health restrictions have been eased, the researchers said.
In addition to the public health implications, the researchers said the results could help focus attention on this population while focusing immunization efforts when COVID-19 vaccines become available.
(Report by Vishwadha Chander from Bengaluru; Editing by Aurora Ellis)