Children infected with Covid-19 have a higher load of the virus in their noses than in adults making them more contagious, a latest research showed. The study published on Thursday also revealed that even though children had high viral load they were less likely to fall seriously ill from the respiratory disease.
The findings were in contrast to previous researches that concluded infected children were not as contagious as the adults. Authors of the latest study – conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital and Mass General Hospital for Children – said that the viral load in children was more than that of hospitalized adult patients. This made children "silent spreaders" of the disease, the study authors noted.
"I was not expecting the viral load to be so high. You think of a hospital, and of all of the precautions taken to treat severely ill adults, but the viral loads of these hospitalized patients are significantly lower than a 'healthy child' who is walking around with a high SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] viral load," said Lael Yonker, lead author of the research.
For the study, the researchers collected nose and throat swabs and blood samples of 192 children with a median age of 10. Of these, 49 children were tested positive for coronavirus but only half of them were symptomatic.
Researchers noted that since coronavirus was declared a pandemic earlier this year, symptomatic patients were largely tested. This led to a misconception among health professionals that the disease often affected the adults. The study authors warned that since children were not immune to the virus, they should not be dismissed as potential spreaders of Covid-19.
The study also sought to find out how susceptible children were to getting infected with coronavirus based on their number of receptors, which act as a "doorway" to the virus. The findings showed that children below 10 years had lower numbers of the receptors than the adults, but despite this had a higher viral load.
The findings, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, come at a time when the U.S. is divided over reopening of schools this fall. President Donald Trump repeatedly said he supported the opening of the schools across the country. In the schools that reopened, healthcare professionals found that there was a 90 percent increase in the number of coronavirus cases among children.
Researchers of the study said that school district authorities should implement guidelines such as social distancing, wearing of masks, effective hand-washing protocols to control the spread of coronavirus. They also suggested that schools should combine remote and in-person teaching as a part of a safe return-to-school policy.
"Kids are a possible source of spreading this virus, and this should be taken into account in the planning stages for reopening schools," Alessio Fasano, senior author of the study, said.