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Young Children May Spread COVID-19 More Easily than Earlier Thought

Researchers studied indiviudals of varied ages with COVID-19 to get the results.
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Back to School(Colin Lamar | KTUU)
Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 7:34 PM AKDT
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At one of Anchorage’s routine COVID-19 press conference’s, the municipal head of Disease Prevention and Control told reporters a new study had “found that young children who are symptomatic have higher viral loads in their noses than older kids or adults.”

It was a u-turn from statements Dr. Bruce Chandler, a medical officer with the Municipality of Anchorage, had made the week prior citing studies that suggest young children may poses a lower infectious risk to the public than older children or adults. This shift from one week to the next is an example of the rapidly changing landscape the medical community must keep up with as they continuously gain more knowledge about COVID-19.

In the July 31st briefing, Chandler was referring to a Chicago-based study published a day earlier in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one day before the nation’s top doctors were called to testify at a COVID hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives.

“It is in the public health interest to these K through 12 students to get these schools back open,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told lawmakers during the hearing.

In their published findings, the authors of the JAMA study underscored the importance of a careful approach to that mission. “As public health systems look to reopen schools and day cares, understanding transmission potential in children will be important to guide public health measures.”

The JAMA-published study, which measured the amount of viral nucleic acid present in patients positive for COVID-19, found that children ages 5 and under had much higher loads than older children and adults. The study looked at symptomatic patients from birth to age 65.

“They found concentrations were higher among young children than they were in older children or adults who were also sick with covid,” Chandler said at the Friday press conference.

The study suggests the behavior of young children, and the close-quarters settings they are often in when at day care or school, could amplify the spread of the virus among their age group, and by extension, the community.

“We know kids tend to share nasal secretions readily with people around them, so this means the concern they may actually pose a greater risk to the people around them,” Chandler said.

As the nation awaits the development and deployment of a vaccine, the study’s authors noted that ”in addition to publich health implications, this population will be important for targeting immunization efforts as SARS-COV-2 vaccines become available.”

While the study found higher viral loads in young children with COVID-19, the authors said it does not mean young children also transmit the virus more effectively than other age groups, as this was not studied. However, they noted that “young children can potentially be important drivers of SARS-CoV-2 spread in the general population, as has been demonstrated with respiratory syncytial virus, where children with high viral loads are more likely to transmit.”

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