There is some good news when it comes to the coronavirus (COVID-19): medical experts report the coronavirus is going easy on children. Of the roughly 75,000 cases reported to date, fewer than 100 involve children and of those cases the virus is causing little more than fever and a mild cough (compared to approximately 100 children who have died in the U.S. from this year’s flu).
As was the case with SARS, another global respiratory virus, COVID-19 appears to be targeting older individuals and those already suffering from chronic illnesses. A small study in China showed that children infected with COVID-19 either showed no signs of illness, or exhibited the symptoms of the common cold.
Similarly, a small number of pregnant women in China who were diagnosed with the disease successfully delivered healthy babies and, further, those children showed no signs of infection. The mother’s milk also did not show markers for the virus, suggesting it may not be passed down ‘vertically’ (in medical parlance).
“So far, it appears that more than 80% of the [coronavirus] infections are pretty mild, no more severe than the common cold,” said Cody Meissner, an infectious disease expert and professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine. “And children appear to have even milder infections than adults.”
Experts point out that the absence of serious contagion in children is a big positive not just because the kids are avoiding infection, but because kids – who aren’t especially good at washing their hands, covering their mouths when they cough and sneeze, etc. – can dramatically exacerbate the spread of disease.
“If we can protect kids — one, it’s good for them, but two, it’s good for the population,” said Aaron Milstone, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University. “If it does penetrate the pediatric population, that might amplify the outbreak.”
This doesn’t mean that children are immune or that parents shouldn’t take precautions with their children. As numerous epidemiologists have pointed out, studies of COVID-19 are still in their early stages and more information may be revealed as new data is collected. But for now at least, it appears that children are not being severely impacted by the disease.