Children under the age of five have between 10 and 100 times higher levels of coronavirus genetic material in their noses than older children and adults, a study in JAMA Pediatrics said Thursday.
The authors wrote that this meant that young children could be important drivers of COVID-19 transmission in communities, a proposal that contradicts the current prevailing narrative.
The document comes when the administration of US President Donald Trump is urging schools and kindergartens to reopen to start the economy.
Between March 23 and April 27, researchers tested nasal tampons on 145 patients in Chicago with mild to moderate disease within a week of symptoms.
Patients were divided into three groups: 46 children younger than five years, 51
The team, led by Taylor Hild-Sargent of Anne and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, observed “10 to 100 times the amount of SARS-CoV-2 in the upper respiratory tract of young children.”
The authors add that a recent laboratory study showed that the more viral genetic material there is, the more infectious the virus can be grown.
It has also been shown previously that children with high viral loads of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are more likely to spread the disease.
“Thus, young children can potentially be important drivers of the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the general population,” the authors write.
“The behavioral habits of young children and close school facilities and day care raise concerns about the increase in SARS-CoV-2 in this population as public health benefits are alleviated,” they concluded.
The new findings contradict the current view of health authorities that young children – who have been found to be much less likely to become seriously ill with the virus – do not spread it much to others.
So far, however, there is very little research on the subject.
A recent study in South Korea found children aged 10 to 19 transmitted COVID-19 within households as adults, but children under the age of nine transmitted the virus at a lower rate.
© Agence France-Presse