Children don’t appear to be catching the virus at the same rate as adults, and if they do, they’re not developing serious symptoms, according to data from Chinese health officials.
This is what we now know about the impact of the coronavirus on children.
Do children get sick?
Yes, children get the coronavirus, but they generally develop mild cases of the disease.
Of nearly 45,000 confirmed cases in China as of February 11, there was only one death in someone under the age of 20, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and there were no deaths among children under the age of 10.
Dr. Arthur Reingold, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Berkeley, said the numbers show that children carry the coronavirus but do not develop serious symptoms.
“The evidence so far suggests that children, at least in China, many children have been infected and either had very mild disease or have had no disease,” Reingold told CNN, adding that this is a pattern seen in many other respiratory viruses that are easily transmitted between children and by children.
There have been cases in U.S, similar to other countries, where children get sick. A high school student in Washington, a teenager in Georgia, an elementary boy in California, and a three-year-old boy in Texas have tested positive for the disease.
However, Reingold said, children are not developing as severe a coronavirus disease as older adults.
“Children just don’t get very sick when they get this infection,” he said. “So if they develop any symptoms, they’re mild … and luckily, serious illness and death is incredibly rare.”
Can children transmit the virus and what steps should be taken?
Just because children are not as likely to develop significant symptoms, or even none at all, does not mean that they do not contract the coronavirus. Reingold said the number of cases in children is likely not reported, in part because their symptoms are very minimal or mild, but cautioned that they may still infect others.
“We have to assume they can spread it. They are incredibly efficient at spreading other respiratory viruses like the flu. Of course, this is a different virus and something different could happen, ”Reingold told CNN. “But we assume that children are extremely efficient at spreading respiratory viruses, including the new Covid-19.”
The biggest concern is that in small or large groups, children may still transmit the virus to those who are most susceptible, including older adults in the community or older members of their families.
Therefore, parents and children should take common sense precautions recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including regular hand cleaning with soap and water or the use of disinfectants. for alcohol-based hands. According to the CDC, children and their families should take preventative measures to prevent the spread of respiratory infection, such as covering up when coughing and keeping up with vaccines.
School closings may also regulate as community members test positive for coronavirus. That would be a form of social distancing, like travel restrictions, which officials hope can help contain the spread of the disease.
Reingold explained that historically, during previous outbreaks of the flu, including the H1N1 virus in 2009, early school closings at least delayed the peak of the outbreak.
“You don’t prevent the outbreak, but at least delay it by several weeks,” he said. “But if you wait too long, school closings really don’t have any demonstrable impact.”
All of this presents challenges for parents, of course, who are trying to juggle their ability to work and care for their children, who may have to stay home if schools close. Reingold said alternatives such as daycare or child care centers can experience similar levels of disease transmission as in schools.
But why don’t children get seriously ill?
It is not known why children do not develop such severe cases.
“If they are getting infected and not getting sick, it seems to me that the theory is most likely that they have some level of immunity, and most likely they are exposed to other coronaviruses,” Reingold said.
Because fewer children have been infected with the coronavirus or have only developed mild symptoms, it has been more difficult to study the disease in very young children, according to a report by the Joint Mission of the World Health Organization and China on coronavirus disease in February. Without the results of blood tests, “it is not possible to determine the degree of infection among children, what role children play in transmission, if children are less susceptible or if they present differently clinically,” according to the report. .
“We saw low attack rates in children and that is something that is important and deserves further study,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.
Infected children were generally identified through tracking contacts in the homes of adults who were ill, according to the report.
Studying children with mild cases could be important in understanding why others become so ill, including differences in the immune system of children and underlying conditions in adults.
It may be that children do not tend to have heart or lung disease or other conditions that make them vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus. Her immune system could play a role, Reingold said.
“I think the other question, and this would be a theory, is that the immune response you see is different, that children are still maturing in terms of their immune response and that in some way, beyond the problems of frailty and disease underlying simply mount a different type of immune response, “he said.
CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.