North American study finds coronavirus load in children 100 times higher than adults

Kids below five carry the most amount of coronavirus in their upper respiratory tract, a study published on Thursday, raising new questions about whether children can infect others.

Understanding the transmission potential in children will be key to developing public health guidelines, said the researchers who published the study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Between March 23 and April 27, 2020, a research team from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and Northwestern University tested swab collections from inpatient, outpatient, emergency department, and drive-through testing sites in Chicago, Illinois.

The study included 145 individuals aged between one month and 65 years with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were studied in three groups – children younger than five years, children 5 to 17 years, and adults 18 to 65 years.

Their analysis suggests the young children had a viral load 10-fold to 100-fold greater than adults in their upper respiratory tracts.

Viral loads in older children with COVID-19 are similar to levels in adults. This study found greater amounts of viral nucleic acid – the genetic codes for proteins to produce new viruses – in children younger than 5 years.

The study only looked at viral nucleic acid and not infectious virus, meaning it is not clear if the children would spread the virus.

Data on children as sources of coronavirus spread are sparse, and early reports did not find strong evidence of children as major contributors to the deadly virus.