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Home Scientific Facts Around Children and Covid-19

Scientific Facts Around Children and Covid-19

Lots of people are worried about the re-opening of schools to all pupils next week. We have looked at all the recent scientific research and information to try to answer your questions. Read on for more…

This is the first of two articles about the re-opening of schools. It looks at the scientific facts and opinions around children and Covid-19. The second article will look at the risk of re-opening schools and colleges. There are links to the second article and other useful information at the bottom of this article.

If you want to skip the explanations and just read the headlines, please go down and read the ‘Conclusion’, below.

CHILDREN & COVID-19

There is a huge amount of misinformation and deliberate fake news about children and Covid-19. BuDS has looked only at reputable, peer-approved, scientific studies to get at the true facts. If you go to our website (link below), you can see all the places we got our information from.

CAN CHILDREN (UNDER 16) CATCH COVID-19 AND HOW WILL IT AFFECT THEM?

Children under 16 can catch Covid-19, but it seems to be a lot harder for them to catch it compared to adults.  When children do catch Covid-19, they are much less likely than adults to get seriously ill, although a few do get seriously ill. Hardly any children have died of Covid-19.1,2

Children are much more likely than adults to show no symptoms at all if they catch Covid-19. They will probably appear completely normal, although they are in fact infected.3

ARE CHILDREN WITH COVID-19 INFECTIOUS (CAN THEY PASS THE VIRUS TO OTHERS)?

The best answer to this question is ‘very probably, yes’. We know from scientific studies that the few children with Covid-19 *who show symptoms* are definitely just as infectious as adults.4,5 For children with Covid-19 who show no symptoms (most infected children), there is not enough evidence to prove that they are infectious. However, given all that is known about the Covid-19 virus, it is most likely that children with Covid-19 who are showing no symptoms are just as infectious as adults.6,7

CAN CHILDREN PASS COVID-19 TO OTHER CHILDREN?

Children, especially those under 12, do not catch Covid-19 as easily as adults.8, 9This makes it less likely that children will catch Covid-19 from other infected children, or indeed from infected adults. But, scientifically, children can infect other children.10 This especially applies to older children, teenagers and young adults infecting other older children, teenagers and young adults.

CAN CHILDREN PASS COVID-19 TO ADULTS?

The scientific evidence is clear that children infected with Covid-19 who show symptoms can pass the virus to adults in the same way as an adult could. It is probable that children infected with Covid-19 who do not show symptoms can also pass the virus to adults in the same way as an adult could.11

Recent outbreaks of Covid-19 in several EU countries have been proven to have been driven by infections of adults by young people.12

CHILDREN UNDER 16 AS ‘SUPER-SPREADERS’ OF COVID-19

When you look at spreading Covid-19, whether by children or adults, the most important thing is the number of people infected with Covid-19 in your area. This is because you catch Covid-19 from infected people (or places where infected people have recently been). If there are only a few infected people around, then the chance of anyone catching and spreading the virus is also small. But if the number of infected people rises, then there is more risk of catching Covid-19, whether from children or adults.

The number of infected people in your area is much more important than the differences in how children and adults can infect other people or how people behave. If the overall number of infected people is low, then the risk of catching Covid-19 is also low, however people behave.

Looking at children as possible super-spreaders, the scientific facts are that children are much less likely to catch Covid-19 than an adult *in the same circumstances*.13,14 This means that children are much less likely to spread Covid-19 than adults IF children behave the same ways as adults. If children behave normally, being huggy and getting very close to one another and to adults, this increases the risk of them catching Covid-19. It is difficult to say whether the bigger risk of catching Covid-19 because of children’s usual behaviour outweighs the smaller risk of catching Covid-19 because it is harder for children to catch the virus. It is probably safest to say that children that have normal behaviour, such as hugging, playing very close together, or sharing drinks and cutlery, are at the same risk of catching Covid-19 as adults.

So, the risk of children spreading Covid-19 largely depends on children’s behaviour. If children can be stopped from doing ‘normal’ things that make them much more likely to catch Covid-19, like getting very close to each other, then they are much less likely to catch the virus than adults. And if they don’t have the virus, they can’t spread it.

If, on the other hand, children are allowed to do the normal things that make them much more likely to catch Covid-19, like getting very close to each other, then they probably have about the same overall risk of catching Covid-19 as adults, and so the same risk of spreading it.

It follows that children, even those who behave normally, are no more of an infection risk than adults – they are not ‘super spreaders’ who are more dangerous spreaders of the virus than adults.15

YOUNG ADULTS AS ‘SUPER-SPREADERS’ OF COVID-19

When you look at the spreading of Covid-19, the most important thing is the number of people infected with Covid-19 in your area. This is because you catch Covid-19 from infected people (or places where infected people have recently have been). If there are only a few infected people around, then the chance of anyone catching and spreading the virus is also small. But if the number of infected people rises, then there is more risk of catching Covid-19. The number of infected people in your area is much more important than the differences in how children and adults can infect other people or how people behave. If the overall number of infected people is low, then the risk of catching Covid-19 is also low, however people behave.

Looking at young adults as possible super-spreaders, the scientific facts are that young adults are less likely to catch Covid-19 than an adult in the same circumstances.16 This means that young adults are less likely to spread Covid-19 than adults IF young adults behave the same ways as adults. If young adults behave normally, getting close to other young adults in a wide group of friends, this increases the risk of them catching Covid-19. It is difficult to say whether the bigger risk of catching Covid-19 because of young adults’ usual behaviour outweighs the smaller risk of catching Covid-19 because it is harder for children to catch the virus. It is probably safe to say that young adults that have normal behaviour, such as getting close to other young adults in a wide group of friends, are at slightly higher risk of catching Covid-19 than adults.

So, the risk of young adults spreading Covid-19 largely depends on their behaviour. If young adults can be stopped from doing ‘normal’ things that make them much more likely to catch Covid-19, like getting very close to each other, then they are less likely to catch the virus than adults. And if they don’t have the virus, they can’t spread it.17

If, on the other hand,  young adults do the normal things that make them much more likely to catch Covid-19, like getting very close to each other, then they probably have slightly more risk of catching Covid-19 than adults, and so a slightly higher risk of spreading it.

It follows that young adults who behave normally and take no precautions, are a higher infection risk than adults. However, this seems to be only a slightly higher risk – young adults, even those who do not take precautions, are NOT ‘super spreaders’ who are far more dangerous spreaders of the virus than adults.18

SUMMING UP – CHILDREN UNDER 16

Because children very rarely get seriously ill if they catch Covid-19, the risk for children from Covid-19 is very small. They can catch Covid-19 not with no risk but with a very low risk of it doing them any serious harm, just like most normal childhood bugs and viruses.19 From that perspective ALONE, there is no need to protect children from catching Covid-19.

However, the evidence is that children who catch Covid-19 can and do infect adults and potentially other children.20 The risk of children catching and spreading Covid-19 depends on how the child behaves – a child that behaves normally, with hugs and close play in a wide group, is at about the same risk as an adult of catching and spreading Covid-19. A child that takes precautions, such as close play only within their household or bubble, is much less likely than an adult to catch or spread Covid-19. But in no circumstances can children be ‘super spreaders’ of Covid-19 – that is to say more dangerous in spreading the virus than adults.21

This means that it is sensible for children to take some precautions against catching Covid-19, such as keeping away from people outside their household, and avoiding close play with large groups of children. For children over 12, face coverings should be worn as if they were an adult.22

Because children can catch Covid-19 and give it to other people, adults at higher risk of death or serious illness if they catch Covid-19 should take sensible precautions to protect themselves against catching Covid-19 from children. These precautions include social distancing and wearing PPE facemasks (and/or asking the children to wear face coverings). The need for adults to take these precautions is less if the children are taking precautions in their life, such as keeping away from people outside their household, and avoiding close play with large groups of children.

SUMMING UP – YOUNG ADULTS (OVER 16)

Because young adults rarely get seriously ill if they catch Covid-19, the risk for young adults from Covid-19 is very small. They can catch Covid-19, not with no risk, but with a low risk of it doing them any serious harm. From that perspective ALONE, there is no strong need to protect young adults from catching Covid-19.

However, the evidence is that young adults who catch Covid-19 can and do infect adults and potentially children.23 The risk of young adults catching and spreading Covid-19 depends on how the young adult behaves. A young adult that behaves normally, getting close to other young adults in a wide group of friends, has a slightly higher risk than an adult of catching and spreading Covid-19. A young adult that takes precautions, such as getting close to people only within their household or bubble, is *less* likely than an adult to catch and spread Covid-19. But in no circumstances can young adults be ‘super spreaders’ of Covid-19 – that is to say be more dangerous than adults spreading the virus.24

This means that it is sensible for young adults to take some precautions against catching Covid-19, such as keeping away from people outside their household, and avoiding close contact with large groups of young adults. For young adults, face coverings should be worn as if they were an adult.

Because young adults can catch Covid-19 and give it to other people, adults at higher risk of death or serious illness if they catch Covid-19 (such as shielding or older people) should take sensible precautions to protect themselves against catching Covid-19 from young adults. These precautions include social distancing and wearing PPE facemasks (and/or asking the young adults to wear face coverings). The need for adults to take these precautions is less if the young adults are taking precautions in their life, such as keeping away from people outside their household, and avoiding close contact with large groups of young adults.

CONCLUSION

The scientific data shows that children (under 16) and young adults (16+) are less likely to catch and spread Covid-19 than adults. This is because children and young people seem to be less susceptible to Covid-1925. If it is harder for children and young people to catch Covid-19, it follows that it is also harder for them to spread it.

However, if children and young people behave normally and get into close contact with large groups of people, the overall risk of them catching and spreading Covid-19 rises to about the same, or slightly higher, risk of adults catching and spreading Covid-19. If children and young adults take sensible precautions against catching Covid-19, the risk of them catching and spreading Covid-19 falls significantly.

Because children and young adults can infect adults with Covid-19 (although the risk of this varies as explained above), shielding and older adults should take sensible precautions to protect themselves against catching Covid-19 from children and young adults. The need for these precautions is less if the children and young people are themselves taking sensible precautions to protect themselves against infection.

MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about the people who are more likely to die or have serious illness if they catch Covid-19, use this link: https://buds.org.uk/how-dangerous-is-covid-19-if-you-catch-it/

To learn more about how face coverings and face masks can protect you, and read our recommendations about using them, click this link: https://buds.org.uk/buds-guidance-on-face-coverings-and-masks-31-july-2020/

To learn more about higher-infection-risk people and places that you should avoid, use this link: https://buds.org.uk/high-risk-places-and-people-to-avoid-if-you-are-older-or-shielding/

To see the second article in this series about the risks of reopening schools, use this link: https://buds.org.uk/the-risks-of-fully-reopening-schools-buds-guidance/

FINALLY

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Sources

https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa1166/5893024#

https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/children-and-school-settings-covid-19-transmission

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30249-2/fulltext

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/911267/School_Outbreaks_Analysis.pdf

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-children-and-masks-related-to-covid-19

 

References

[1] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/911267/School_Outbreaks_Analysis.pdf

[2] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/children-and-school-settings-covid-19-transmission

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html, quoting two studies (‘Sargent TH, Muller WJ, Zheng X, et al. Age-Related Differences in Nasopharyngeal Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Levels in Patients With Mild to Moderate Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). JAMA Pediatrics.’ and ‘Park YJ, Chloe YJ, Park O, et al. Contact Tracing During Coronavirus Disease Outbreak, South Korea, 2020. Emerging Infectious Diseases.’)

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/children-and-school-settings-covid-19-transmission

[8] Ibid.

[9] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html

[10] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/children-and-school-settings-covid-19-transmission

[11] Ibid.

[12] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/world-53577222 see time-stamp 18:05 for comments from WHO European regional director Dr Hans Kluge on role of young people in driving Covid-19 case rises.

[13] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/children-and-school-settings-covid-19-transmission

[14] https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article/doi/10.1093/cid/ciaa1166/5893024#

[15] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/children-and-school-settings-covid-19-transmission

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-children-and-masks-related-to-covid-19

[23] https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/children-and-school-settings-covid-19-transmission

[24] Ibid.

[25] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/pediatric-hcp.html