Coronavirus threat for children, study finds

Children of all ages are prone to contract and suffer from COVID-19, particularly infants, a new study has found.

It is the first retrospective study on the epidemiological characteristics and transmission dynamics of children’s COVID-19 in China.

The study titled, ‘Epidemiology of COVID-19 among Children in China’ disclosed that over 90 per cent of all patients studied (731 laboratory-confirmed cases and 1412 suspected cases) were asymptomatic, mild, or moderate cases. 

Since the outbreak started in Wuhan last year, children have long been believed to be the least likely age group to develop the Covid-19 pneumonia like disease.

But the study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics revealed that infection on children can also get severe.

The study confirmed that a child, 14-year-old boy from Hubei province died from the virus in February, 2020.

The researchers looked at 2143 minors from Wuhan and surrounding areas within Hubei province. Their ages ranged from one day to 18 years old.

125 children of the total 2143 (5.9 per cent) went on to develop serious or critical illness which includes acute respiratory distress syndrome, may have a shock or heart failure.

10.6 per cent of children less than a year old fell in the bracket of severe to critical cases along with 7.3 per cent of children who were between the ages of 1-5.

The least severity of illness was those above the age of 16, which only 3 per cent of whom had severe and critical cases.

“The total number of pediatric patients increased remarkably between mid-January and early February, peaked around Feb 1, and then declined since early February 2020,” the study reads.

“As most of these children were likely to expose themselves to family members and/or other children with COVID-19, it clearly indicates person-to-person transmission.

“As of 8 February 2020, of the 2143 pediatric patients included in this study, only one child died and most cases were mild, with much fewer severe and critical cases (5.9 per cent) than adult patients (18.5 per cent).

Compared to adults, the severity of children’s COVID cases was milder and case fatality is a lot lower.

Children react differently to the virus than adults.

Why children’s cases are less severe is left unanswered as it still puzzles researchers around the globe. The study suggests that it may be related to both exposure and host factors.

“Recent evidence indicates that ACE2 is also likely the cell receptor of 2019nCoV,” the study reads.

“It is speculated that children were less sensitive to 2019-nCoV because the maturity and function (e.g., binding ability) of ACE2 in children may be lower than that in adults.”

This means that ACE2 (Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2), shown to be the entry point into human cells is underdeveloped and less functional in children compared to adults.

Also, adults may be more susceptible to the virus than children because their immune system may be overworking itself to counter the virus, doing more damage to the body than the COVID-19.

“Additionally, children often experience respiratory infections (e.g., respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)) in winter, and may have higher levels of antibody against virus than adults,” lead researcher, Professor Shilu Tong, wrote.

“Furthermore, children’s immune system is still developing, and may respond to pathogens differently to adults.

“Therefore, the mechanisms for the difference in clinical manifestations between children and adults remain to be determined.”

Risk for Samoa’s children unknown.

COVID-19 has “no bearing” on Samoa due to the impact of the measles epidemic last year, Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, Associate Professor and Microbiologist had said.

The serious damage to the immune system means Samoa is at risk of a higher case fatality rate than seen so far.

“It’s all very hard, because we don’t quite know, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that the case fatality rate might be higher,” she said.

Throughout the epidemic, over 5,700 measles cases were reported, most of which were young children.

Poao Dr. Lamour Hansell said last week that this group could be another risk group, apart from the elderly and those with non-communicable disease including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and diabetes.

“The evidence is that measles sort of resets your immune system so you may well have many more people who cannot deal with it compared to a normal population,” Dr. Siouxsie continues.

“So it’s very important to try and keep it out, basically, which is going to become increasingly difficult as the number of cases rises.”

How to better protect your children

Preventing your children from coming in contact with infections is the best way to protect them, regardless of age. 

Basics like Hand-washing, for instance is usually taken from granted, but this is the time to remind that it is an important tactic for both young and old to control the spread of the COVID-19. 

The Ministry of Health advises the public to do its part to protect Samoa.

  1. Wash your hands regularly with soap and clean water or alcohol-based hand rub.  
  2. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw it into a bin and wash your hands after.  
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.  
  4. Call a healthcare provider if you feel sick for medical advice.  
  5. Avoid unnecessary travel.  
  6. Avoid mass gatherings and keep a distance of 1 meter from people with flu-like symptoms.  
  7. Clean frequently touched surfaces (i.e. door knobs, counters, phones).  
  8.  Avoid UNNECESSARY visits to hospital, limit family visits to hospital to 1 person, and keep children under age 19 away from hospital.  

Coronavirus Call Centre: #21183, #21176, #21173, #22914, #22241, #24402

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