The title of this week old article from healthing.ca is "'We don't have to worry about our kids dying': Immunologist".
As the world watches COVID-19 take hold in our communities, there’s one trend that has caught the curiosity of researchers: why are kids not responding the same way to the virus as adults?
While it was originally believed that children were immune to the virus, there are now cases involving children — at least one in Alberta, and 17 in Ontario, including one involving a baby boy.
Dawn Bowdish, the Canada Research Chair in Aging and Immunity, says that we now know children are infected at the same rate as adults, but that they don’t necessarily show the symptoms.
“When they do show the symptoms, they’re very mild compared to adult symptoms,” she says. “This shows us that the virus can get into kids’ bodies, they just don’t get very sick.”
Older adults and those with pre-existing health conditions seem to be the most at risk compared to children.
One study in JAMA found that reported cases in children were ‘rare’ as the average age for coronavirus patients was between 49 to 56 years old. Another study from the New England Journal of Medicine examined 425 patients, finding that no one under the age of 15 had the virus. The WHO has reported that 2.4 per cent of cases were children under the age of 18, while only 0.2 per cent of cases were cases where children were seriously ill.
“We don’t have to worry about our children dying,” says Bowdish. However, she acknowledges that the virus’ death rates vary from country to country, and vulnerable populations are the most at risk everywhere, including in Canada.
“Right now, children aren’t going to be the ones filling up our emergency rooms, it’s going to be older adults.” she says.
Of course, if you suspect your child is sick, it’s a good idea to get them tested just in case.
Currently, health experts don’t understand whether children can transmit the virus in the same way that they can transmit influenza in a community outbreak — meaning spreading it to parents, grandparents, classmates, etc. In influenza outbreaks, taking measures such as shutting down schools or vaccinating against the illness can break the transmission of the virus, benefitting the whole community. In the case of COVID-19, we just don’t know the role that kids play in its spread.
Health experts don’t understand whether children can transmit the virus the same way they can transmit influenza
With March Break approaching Bowdish says it could cause the infection to spread, as many families head out on vacation to the U.S. and international destinations. The Ontario government recently announced the closure of all publicly funded schools in Ontario for two weeks following March break, in response to the growing number of cases of COVID-19. It’s a move that she says is “excellent.”
“Families [who may get infected] will come back from their March Break holiday and have two weeks before the kids end up back at school. Hopefully, that will be sufficient to slow down transmission,” she says. Bowdish adds that the earlier we take these measures to reduce the spread of infection before the health care system is overburdened, the better chance it has to help.
While closing the schools will definitely help to prevention infection, Bowdish says there is another way — one that is harder than the other. Staying away from grandparents.
“Grandparents are everyone’s defacto babysitter,” she says. “This is problematic because this virus infects older adults and causes them to become severely ill.” She suggests that parents find alternative childcare if they can.
Another prevention strategy is teaching children how to properly wash their hands. Not only does educating kids on how they can protect themselves empower them and make them feel like they have a little bit of control in such an uncertain time, it also teaches them that they also have a role to play in keeping other people safe.
Families [who may get infected] will come back from their March Break holiday and have two weeks before the kids end up back at school. Hopefully, that will slow down transmission
Bowdish says these measures are important, as they help adults and children take care of themselves. While the virus may seem like a regular flu, it’s important for parents, and children to step up and take precautions whenever they can.
“Anytime we have a bad flu year or an epidemic, [these] cause mortality and our hospitals become strained,” she says. “That’s one of the consequences we’re going to see here. We need to break the transmission of the virus.”