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Infectious Diseases

Updated 13 March 2020

Yes, kids CAN still get coronavirus, but this is what you should know

Although complications related to the new coronavirus appear not to be as bad in children as in older adults, they can still carry and spread the virus.

A popular coronavirus topic at the moment is how the virus affects children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 2.4% of the cases recorded in China are children and only 0.2% of those cases got critically ill – and there have been no child fatalities either.

While children seem to only experience milder cases of the virus, this certainly doesn't mean they are not contracting the virus, or that these cases should be overlooked.

What we do know is that people on the opposite side of the age spectrum fall into the higher risk category. The WHO reports that the fatality rate for those over the age of 80 is an estimated 21.9%. And, in Italy, where the numbers are also high, the fatality rate seems higher for those who are aged between 80 and 90.

What does this say about the virus?

Experts reckon the coronavirus is behaving differently than seasonal influenza, which is usually dangerous for young children and old adults.

“With respiratory infections like this, we usually see a U-shaped curve on who gets hit hardest. Young children at one end of the U because their immune systems aren’t yet developed and old people at the other end because their immune systems grow weaker,” said Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in the Washington Post.

“With this virus, one side of the U is just completely missing.”

To find out why, a study was performed on mice using the SARS virus – which is similar to the coronavirus. Menachery saw that the baby mice shook off their infection, while the older mice succumbed to the virus.

It seemed like it wasn’t just the virus itself that caused the severe symptoms and response from the older mice – an aggressive response from their immune system was actually much more damaging.

Other scientists believe this can be because children are already heavily exposed to other milder forms of coronavirus, which circulate yearly as a common cold.

And others simply believe that it can be because older people may already have underlying conditions, such as hypertension.

But this brings scientists to believe there is still much more to discover about this virus.

“It just shows you how much we don’t know about this virus,” said Stuart Weston, a virologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who has been testing anti-viral drugs that can help treat the new coronavirus.

“The focus now is on vaccines and treatment, but there are all these big questions we’re going to want to answer in the long-term if we want to really understand how these coronaviruses work.”

This doesn’t mean kids shouldn’t be isolated

Even though the symptoms do not seem that serious in children, this doesn’t mean we should disregard them from isolation and safety measures.

While previous studies suggest that kids are actually less likely to carry the virus at all, an international team of researchers from China conducted a study and found different conclusions.

The investigators found that children under the age of 10, who were in close contact with people who had the new virus, demonstrated a 7.4% infection rate - very similar to the 7.9% infection rate in adults.

READ | Why are kids not contracting the coronavirus in a big way?

This raises many questions as to how you should protect your kids and those around them.

Parent24, for example, discussed whether children could still carry the virus and potentially infect their more vulnerable grandparents.

Research does show that seasonal spikes in flu in pre-schoolers can result in increased mortality in the elderly soon after. This means that kids are able to infect the elderly.

As with any case of illness, it is best to play it safe and keep a lookout for any symptoms, no matter how mild.

It is also important to promote good hygiene among your children, such as coughing in the crook of your elbow and washing your hands. 

Image credit: iStock