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Sars-CoV-2: children appear to be infected just as frequently, but do not get sick

The new type of corona virus appears to have largely spared children.

The brand-new type of corona infection appears to have actually mostly spared children.
A crucial issue in dealing with coronavirus: What part do kids play in spreading the virus?

A study now suggests that, although they are infected with the pathogen as often as adults, they remain healthy.

Why does the lung disease, which is triggered by the new coronavirus Sars-CoV-2, seem to stop at children? An international team of researchers has now published the most detailed study on this question.

According to this study, the pathogen is just as likely to infect children as adults. 

However, they develop only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. For the analysis, the physicians had evaluated patient data from the southeast Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen.

This study is unique because it takes into account data not only from people who have been infected, but also from their environment. The researchers first examined 391 patients diagnosed with Covid-19 - the lung disease caused by the novel coronavirus - based on the symptoms they experienced.

  • 91 percent of those affected had only mild or moderate symptoms.
  • On average, they were 45 years old, which is slightly older than the population average.
  • Women were slightly more frequently represented in the sample than men.
  • More than half are now considered to have recovered.
  • On average, it took 32 days for them to recover.

The researchers also analysed how many of the 1286 people who were in contact with the patients later tested positive for Sars-CoV-2. Result: On average, seven to eight percent of the contact persons were infected, regardless of age.
Children are just as likely to be infected, but they don't get sick, says one of the study authors, Justin Lessler from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Coronavirus, Covid-19, Sars-CoV-2? What the terms mean.

Coronavirus: Coronaviruses are a virus family to which the currently worldwide spreading coronavirus belongs. Since it did not initially have a name, it was referred to as the "novel coronavirus" in the first few weeks.

Sars-CoV-2: The WHO gave the novel coronavirus the name "Sars-CoV-2" ('Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome'-Coronavirus-2). The name refers to the virus that can cause symptoms, but does not necessarily have to.

Covid-19: The respiratory disease caused by Sars-CoV-2 was called "Covid-19" (Coronavirus Disease 2019). Accordingly, Covid-19 patients are people who carry the Sars-CoV-2 virus and show symptoms.

People who lived in a household with a Covid-19 sufferer and had close contact with the person were about six times more likely to be infected than people who met the sufferer outside their own home. Traveling together also increased the likelihood of transmission.

Previous analyses had already shown that children develop severe symptoms significantly less often than adults.

But it was not clear whether they were less likely to become infected or whether they were better able to fight off the infection than other age groups. The current study suggests the latter.

According to the Dresden infectologist Reinhard Berner, children under ten years of age show no symptoms at all. He also told SWR radio that only mild cases of people under 20 years of age are known from Germany.

Other viral infections such as glandular fever (Pfeiffer's disease) also usually cause no or only mild symptoms in healthy children. Why this is so, however, is unclear.

One theory is that the docking sites through which viruses attack body cells are not yet sufficiently developed in children. If the viruses do not enter the cells, they cannot multiply.

Another possibility is that the immune system of children does not respond to the virus as strongly. Pneumonia, which can occur with Covid-19, is the body's attempt to get rid of the pathogens.

The current study raises the question of what role children play in the spread of the novel coronavirus. Research shows that they excrete the virus longer than adults.

It is possible that they could infect others even though they themselves have no symptoms. In addition, outbreaks in schools might have gone undetected because children only develop mild symptoms.