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Explained: Why children are less affected by COVID-19, but more susceptible

Children infected with the coronavirus show milder symptoms, a faster recovery, shorter “detoxification time” and a good prognosis as compared to adults, researchers in China have found.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Published: April 9, 2020 2:39:15 pm
Explained: Why children are less affected by COVID-19, but more susceptible Children during lockdown in Jerusalem, April 8, 2020. (AP Photo: Ariel Schalit)

With new information about the novel coronavirus emerging everyday, it is becoming clearer how the virus affects people of different age groups. Research suggests that while everyone is susceptible to COVID-19, people over the age of 60 and children are particularly vulnerable.

As the virus originated in China, a country that has started lifting restrictions on its citizens, the research produced by the Chinese holds answers for the rest of the world, which is still battling the pandemic.

A study, published on March 31, 2020 by researchers from the Southwest Medical University and Birth Defects Clinical Research Center of Sichuan Province, describes the clinical features of the COVID-19 disease in children.

Coronavirus: Why children are less affected

In the early stages of the outbreak, it was found that COVID-19 was predominantly prevalent in adults over the age of 15 years, while the proportion of confirmed cases among children remained relatively smaller. Researchers found that it had been difficult to track the disease among children as they could not “clearly describe their own health status or contact history”. This, researchers said, contributed to the “severe challenge of protecting, diagnosing, and treating this population”.

In China, children under the age of 18 accounted for about 2.4 per cent of all reported cases till publication of the study.

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To compare COVID-19 to other coronavirus outbreaks, during SARS in 2002-2003, the global number of children infected (between age groups of 4 months to 17 years) was less than 0.02 per cent of the total cases and no deaths were reported. Those severely affected accounted for over 7.9 per cent of the total cases of children.

During the MERS outbreak, on the other hand, out of the over 1,600 cases, children less than 19 years of age accounted for less than 2.2 per cent of all cases.

coronavirus latest news live udpates in india and the world A police officer distributes masks to children of migrant daily wage laborers during lockdown in Jammu on March 28, 2020. (AP Photo: Channi Anand)

COVID-19 characteristics in children, according to research

Citing existing epidemiological data, researchers say that 56 per cent of children demonstrated evidence of transmission through family gatherings and 43 per cent had a history of exposure to the epidemic site in China.

In China, the first infant diagnosed with the disease was 17 days old. The youngest, probably, was a newborn confirmed to have been infected 36 hours after birth following a cesarean delivery.

Also read | Tracking the coronavirus curve in India

Significantly, the researchers noted that the incubation period in children was longer than in adults, which is approximately 6.5 days as compared to roughly 5.4 days in adults.

Explained: Why children are less affected by COVID-19, but more susceptible Children ride scooters in Belfast, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, Belfast, Northern Ireland, April 8, 2020. (Reuters Photo: Jason Cairnduff)

Children infected with the virus show milder symptoms, a faster recovery, shorter “detoxification time” and a good prognosis as compared to adults, researchers found.

However, the study does take into account the fact that children have low immunity, and must therefore “try to avoid contact with complex populations to avoid being infected by potential spreaders”.

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Classifying them as a “special group of patients” the authors suggested: “Although the incidence of critical illness in children is low, the current incidence is sufficient to alert pediatricians. It is important to identify children with COVID-19, especially those with underlying/co-morbid disease(s), and to treat them early.”

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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