Since the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019, researchers have been attempting to figure out the impact children have when it comes to spreading the virus. Early on it was established that younger people are spared from serious infection compared to older, with very few children losing their lives as a result of infection.
However, it has been determined that children can be asymptomatic spreaders, infecting others despite showing zero symptoms themselves. Now, a new study just how contagious children are and at what age they can transmit the virus at the same rate as adults.
According to new research out of South Korea published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, children between the ages of 10 and 19 have the ability to spread COVID-19 within a household at the same rate as adults. Those under the age of 10 can also spread the virus, but the rate at which they do so is significantly lower.
Children Are More Likely to Infect Others
Researchers analyzed 59,073 contacts of 5,706 coronavirus patients detecting COVID-19 in 11.8% of 10,592 household contacts and 1.9% of 48,481 non-household contacts. They found that when patient 0 was under the age of 10, 5.3% of contacts within the household tested positive. However, when that patient was 10-19, the percentage jumped up over three times to 18.6%.
“Rates were higher for contacts of children than adults,” the study authors explained—meaning that this age group is more likely to infect others than adults are.
This new research, the largest study of its kind, could be a predictor of how reopening schools in the middle of a pandemic could impact the health crisis, as researchers determined that the highest COVID-19 rate for household contacts of children 10-19 and the lowest rates for those under 9 was in the midst of school closures.
“Although the detection rate for contacts of preschool-aged children was lower, young children may show higher attack rates when the school closure ends, contributing to community transmission of COVID-19,” the study said.
Researchers point out that contact tracing “is especially important in light of upcoming future SARS-CoV-2 waves, for which social distancing and personal hygiene will remain the most viable options for prevention.” Additionally, “understanding the role of hygiene and infection control measures is critical to reducing household spread, and the role of masking within the home, especially if any family members are at high risk,” they write.
Mitigation Strategy Essential
The study also notes the importance of the current mitigation strategy—which includes physical distancing, optimizing the likelihood of reducing individual, family, and community disease. “Implementation of public health recommendations, including hand and respiratory hygiene, should be encouraged to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 within affected households,” they add.
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