Coronavirus: what is known about the infection in children? | News and analysis from Europe DW


The coronavirus affects children much less frequently than adults, according to the German Robert Koch Institute. So far, however, there is no clear answer to the question of whether children are generally less vulnerable to infection. Numerous studies show that when living with an infected child, they are less likely to be infected with the new coronavirus than adults. This is especially true for the youngest children.

At the same time, research at the Charité clinic in Berlin in late April showed that the risk of children becoming infected was just as high as that of adults. “There are no proven differences in this regard,” said virologist Christian Dorsten. However, he expects other institutes to study the issue in order to obtain a more complete brief, as only a small number of children have been studied in Berlin. “To get a clearer picture, ten times as many children should be covered,” Dorsten recommends.

How do children become infected?

The position of the World Health Organization (WHO) on this issue is: children are not a significant factor in the spread of the pandemic. They are mostly infected by adults, but the data collected here are not enough. And they cannot cover the workday, as kindergartens and schools were closed during most surveys.

Most infected children show little or no symptoms – a mild cough, runny nose and sometimes a disorder. But why do children have the disease differently? And there is no clarity here. No research, just speculation. One of the theses is that children’s innate immune defenses are more effective than those of adults. Another thesis is that the virus settles in certain receptors, which in children are not so developed and therefore the virus is deprived of “its basis”.

When does severe inflammation occur?

Recently, severe inflammation in children infected with coronavirus has been reported in a number of countries – the United States, Italy, Spain, France and Switzerland. The symptoms resemble the so-called. Kawasaki syndrome – a disease that affects the middle blood vessels and can lead to severe organ dysfunction: children have a high fever, severe abdominal pain, rash and swelling of the tongue. Blood vessels become inflamed, leading to heart damage. A total of 230 such cases have been registered in Europe since the beginning of the year.

However, it is not clear whether these diseases are actually related to the coronavirus – as not all children have symptoms of Kovid-19, and Kawasaki syndrome has existed for much longer.

When will there be reliable research?

A study has been under way in Hamburg for several days to determine how often children and young people become infected and how vulnerable they are to the severe course of the disease. The study will cover 6,000 healthy and chronically ill children and adolescents with and without symptoms of Kovid-19. At the same time, it will be studied how high the risk of spreading the coronavirus from asymptomatic children is, as well as whether the risk of severe disease is higher in chronically ill children than in healthy children.

Dr. Anya Muntau of the University Clinic in Hamburg says that due to the lack of sufficient data, there are still no answers to the questions of whether and how often children become infected, as well as how severe the disease is in them. In addition, mass tests have not yet been performed on children. “It is likely that the proportion of infected children without symptoms is higher than registered, and this may be important for society and for the spread of the pandemic,” Muntau said.

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