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CDC: Kids have milder symptoms but can be virus carriers

A tent outside NYU Winthrop University Emergency room

A tent outside NYU Winthrop University Emergency room on April 1, 2020 in Mineola... Credit: Howard Schnapp

 Relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized or experience severe symptoms of the virus, but they can still carry the disease to their elders, according to a new report released Monday by the CDC.

The study is the first attempt in the U.S. to document what doctors have seen anecdotally during the pandemic – that children under the age of 18 have been sickened by the virus in much smaller numbers than adults and senior citizens.

They may also not have the classic symptoms of fever or a cough that many adults develop.

That does not mean children have been completely spared by the virus officials said. The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes “severe outcomes” have been reported in children, including three deaths.

And the report notes that children may play a key role in the COVID-19 outbreak as effective carriers of the virus.

“This important study supports what has already been suggested in the literature: Adolescents and young adults can be efficient transmitters of COVID even if they have no symptoms or only mild symptoms,” said Dr. Aaron Glatt, professor and chair of the department of medicine and the chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital.

“Asymptomatic transmission occurs in maybe 10-20% of cases and partially explains why disease can spread so quickly in a community,” he said.

The report builds on data from China, where the outbreak started in late December, which suggested COVID-19 cases among children may be less severe than those in adults.

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Dr. Nancy Palumbo, division director, pediatric hospital medicine at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, said it’s been clear fewer children with COVID-19 are in the hospital when compared with adults at other Northwell Health facilities.

“We have had newborns almost asymptomatic and tested positive,” she said. But she added: “I’ve also seen healthy kids get very sick from COVID so I don’t want people to become lax. It’s important for everyone to follow social distancing.”

Researchers looked at 2,572 COVID-19 cases in children between February 12 and April 2 across the nation. That was about 1.7% of the overall 149,000-plus cases for which the age of the person was known.

Nearly one-third of the 2,572 cases were found in children between the ages of 15 to 17.

Researchers noted that important information was not available for many cases they reviewed such as whether the child had an underlying medical condition. But they stressed the need for kids to remember to keep their distance as well.

“Social distancing and everyday preventative behaviors remain important for all age groups because patients with less serious illness and those without symptoms likely play an important role in disease transmission,” the report said.

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