With the coronavirus pandemic flaring acutely across the world, one of the major questions that is on the mind of every parent today is, how susceptible are kids to COVID-19? According to reports based on the data collected from cases worldwide, people above the age of 60 are at a higher risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19. But does that mean children are immune to COVID-19?  How susceptible they are and what precautions need to be taken to keep children safe?

How susceptible are children to COVID-19?

Children have generally been unscathed by the virus or have displayed very mild to no symptoms at all. Paediatrics Journal recorded research on 2000 (approx.) children who have tested positive for coronavirus in China. According to the research, about half of the children had mild symptoms like fever, fatigue, cough, congestion and possibly nausea or diarrhoea. However, 125 children, nearly six percent of the total cases, developed severe symptoms and illness. 60 percent of these 125 children were five years old or younger, while 40 were infants. Recently, there has been a reported death of a newborn baby due to coronavirus in the US.

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of British Columbia told New York Times, “The main conclusion is that children are infected at rates that may be comparable to adults, with a severity that’s much less, but that even within the kids, there’s a spectrum of illness and there’s a handful that requires more aggressive therapy.” Adding further, he said that we cannot altogether rule out children, and we should prepare hospitals for children too.

Important to mention that, the study based in China, which is the largest study in this section to date, used the cases which were COVID-19 positive and also those which were suspected to be positive but not confirmed.

Children are infected at rates that may be comparable to adults, with a severity that’s much less, but that even within the kids, there’s a spectrum of illness and there’s a handful that requires more aggressive therapy.

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Why are children at lower risk or infected differently than adults?

Generally, adults, especially those who are above the age of 6o, are more susceptible because of their weakened immunity and a history of other illnesses. Besides, people who have compromised immunity due to underlying health conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart and lung disease are also at a higher risk. Comparatively, children under the age of 18 or 19 have stronger immunity that helps fight new viruses and build antibodies. This is one of the reasons why children are at a lower risk.

Another theory that has been studied to understand this difference in risk depending on age is the presence of ACE2 receptors. According to Dr Murthy, the ACE2, an enzyme attached to the outer surface of cells (cell membrane), to which the virus attaches itself, is not as prominently present in children as in adults. Another theory is that children’s lungs are comparatively healthier than that of adults who have been frequently exposed to pollution and susceptible to coronavirus that affects the respiratory system. Moreover, some adults also have hyperactive immunity, that while fighting the coronavirus ends up destroying the healthy cells and organs of the body as well. As reported by the New York Times, most of the serious damages have been caused by this hyperactive immune system which is rarely observed in children’s body.

On the other hand, the group of children who are at a higher risk- infants to 5-year-old- have an immature immune system that cannot fight new viruses and disease.

Also Read: Virus researcher Gagandeep Kang breaks down India’s corona challenge

 But, children are the carriers of coronavirus

Even though children are at lower risk, they can act as carriers of the virus and infect other people in their family or beyond. According to a study, one of the reasons why COVID-19 is spreading unchecked is because a majority of patients experience only mild symptoms, which often goes unchecked, thus making it difficult to stop its spread. Consequently, children, albeit at a lower risk of suffering from life threatening consequences to the infection, can be the unseen carriers which can put a large number of people at risk.

Moreover, there is no conclusion yet on how does coronavirus affect children who are malnourished or are suffering from medical issues like asthma, diabetes among others, as per an interview of Karen Kotloff of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), US with IndiaSpend. However, according to hopkinsmedicine.org, children with medical complications might be more susceptible.

Also Read: Coronavirus: Serena Williams Under Stress, Due To Social Distancing

What can be done?

Certainly, it cannot be said that children are immune to coronavirus. Therefore it is equally that children are protected from being exposed to it. This is why the closure of schools is an effective way to practice social distancing and protecting children from exposure and thus break the chain of spread.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, the following preventive measures must be taken:

  • Children should be kept away from the crowd.
  • Do not bring them into contact with people who are sick.
  • Teach them to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds.
  • Teach them to cough and sneeze into their elbow and keep their hands off their face.
  • The surfaces that children often touch should be disinfected.
  • Families should address the questions and stress that the pandemic virus might arouse among children. Recently, Erna Solberg Prime Minister of Norway took a unique step by organising a press conference especially to address the queries of children related to COVID-19.

 

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