Community study compares COVID-19 in children and adults

Man labels sample tube from home test kit provided by SCAN.
Greater Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network
Participants received home testing kits by courier.

Children and adults infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have similar levels of the virus if they have symptoms, and similar levels if they do not, University of Washington School of Medicine researchers have found.

“We found that in terms of viral levels, children are similar to adults,” said Dr. Erin Chung, a pediatric infectious disease fellow at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital and lead author of the study, which appears in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“There were no significant differences in levels between asymptomatic children and asymptomatic adults, so asymptomatic infected children should be considered as infectious as asymptomatic infected adults until we know more about the role of viral levels in children and transmission,” Chung said.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, health experts have been concerned that infected children might spread the disease undetected, because children tend to have milder or no symptoms. This is the case with the flu, where children can have high viral levels but no symptoms. This concern has led to such measures as school closures.

But little is known about the type of symptoms infected children in the community have and whether those symptoms are related to their viral levels. This is important to know because higher viral levels are associated with more viral shedding and a greater risk of disease transmission.

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