How does the virus infect children?


WITH parents and policymakers agonising over when to reopen schools as lockdowns ease, scientists are still struggling to find out how the new coronavirus affects children.While youngsters can become infected with the new coronavirus, very few have died or contracted serious symptoms. But could they still spread contagion?
Here is what we know so far. Are Children At Risk? This is one of the few questions where there is broad agreement. Only a tiny proportion of children appear to have become seriously ill with Covid-19.
“There are three key questions: How much do children get Covid-19; how badly does it affect them; and do they spread it to others?” said Russell Viner, President of Britain’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
“We only have good data about the second of these.” Specialists writing for the British paediatric website Don’t Forget The Bubbles (DFTB) said in a recent roundup of international research that only around one percent of critical cases involved children, while “deaths remain extremely rare”.
Do They Get Infected? The short answer is yes. “Research indicates that children and adolescents are just as likely to become infected as any other age group and can spread the disease,” says the World Health Organization (WHO).
But this is not reflected in global official data about the virus, with many countries largely focusing their Covid-19 testing on those who have gone to hospital with severe symptoms.
But are they silent vectors? This is the area of greatest uncertainty. Initially researchers believed they could be spreading the disease, drawing comparisons with other viruses like the flu where children help accelerate infections.
But recent studies on the new coronavirus suggest that they are less likely to transmit the virus.
A study of the incident – one of the first major clusters of infection in France – showed that the child, who only displayed mild symptoms, came into contact with 172 people while sick.
None of them contracted Covid-19, not even the youngster’s two siblings. But the child did transmit other winter viruses, including the flu. Children could be less infectious because they do not have as many symptoms and do not cough, French expert Arnaud Fontanet told a parliamentary hearing last week.
A few dozen cases have been reported in New York, France, Britain, Italy and Spain and while no link has been formally established to the new coronavirus, scientists believe it could be connected.

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