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Children and young adults could be "major drivers of ongoing COVID-19 spread," doctor says

Health risks of wildfires and COVID in kids
Doctor on health risks of California wildfires and COVID-19 in kids 08:22

There's growing evidence that children and young adults may be contributing to the spread of the coronavirus more than previously thought — even if they show mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that children in the asymptomatic and early infection phase had higher levels of the virus than hospitalized adults with over seven days of symptoms.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, looked at 192 children and young adults up to age 22 with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infections. Of the 49 who tested positive for the virus, only 25 had a fever.

However, viral load in the infected kids was "significantly higher" than adults with severe COVID-19 cases, the researchers said. Higher viral loads increase the risk of contagion, which raises more concerns as many students across the country return to school.

"The big concern here is that children and young adults are going to be one of the major drivers of ongoing COVID-19 spread, carry the virus into their homes, exposing their parents or maybe their grandparents who are at higher risk of developing severe disease," Dr. Shoshana Ungerleider, a internal medicine physician in California, said on CBSN.

And since kids can transmit the virus without showing any symptoms themselves, schools cannot just rely on temperature checks or symptom questionnaires to stop the spread, Ungerleider said. 

"We need schools to really prioritize efforts to stop the spread by enforcing things like social distancing, wearing masks, creating more remote learning options if that makes sense in a community," she said. 

Ungerleider added that if there is enough COVID-19 testing capability, schools should make that a part of their plans. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, announced plans this week for regular testing and contact tracing for all students and staff. 

Even though many children have only mild or no symptoms, the study did note that cases where children developed severe complications from COVID-19. 

"Some children develop a multisystem inflammatory syndrome several weeks after possible SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure, with severe cardiac complications, including hypotension, shock, and acute heart failure," the researchers said.

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