Young kids spread COVID-19 as much as adults, study finds

Ashton Bingham/Unsplash

Children younger than five years old with mild to moderate novel coronavirus (COVID-19) have much higher levels of genetic material for the virus in the nose compared to older children and adults, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

For the study, researchers from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago analyzed 145 cases of mild to moderate COVID-19 illness within the first week of symptom onset. They compared the viral load in three age groups, children younger than five years old, children five to 17 years old, and adults 18 to 65 years old.

The researchers found that children under five years old with COVID-19 have a higher viral load than older children and adults, which may suggest greater transmission, as with respiratory syncytial virus, the researchers said.

The findings point to the possibility that the youngest children transmit the virus as much as other age groups. The ability of younger children to spread COVID-19 may have been under-recognized given the rapid and sustained closure of schools and daycare during the pandemic.

"Our study was not designed to prove that younger children spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility," said Taylor Heald-Sargent, MD, PhD, lead author and pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Lurie Children's and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement. "We need to take that into account in efforts to reduce transmission as we continue to learn more about this virus."

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.