April 22 (UPI) -- Children and adolescents infected with the new coronavirus tend to suffer from mild COVID-19 symptoms, but their role in disease transmission remains unclear, new research findings released Wednesday reveal.
Researchers confirmed, in a review of studies published in JAMA Pediatrics, that the vast majority of young people who acquire SARS-CoV-2 experience mild symptoms, if any.
But given earlier research suggesting those with mild disease or who are asymptomatic can still pass the disease to others, children and adolescents may still play a role in spreading the virus, experts said.
"The question is hugely relevant in the context of school closures," Dr. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, referring to the ongoing disruption to classes across the country because of social distancing measures
Although the JAMA Pediatrics paper echoes earlier studies suggesting that "children don't get sick at the same rate as adults," Hanage, who was not involved in that research was not commenting on it directly, said they can still pass it to other children and adults. Until this question is resolved, it's likely that schools will remain -- and should remain -- closed, he said.
This is because even if SARS-CoV-2 is less infectious in young people than it is in adults, "children make contacts with each other in different ways than adults and they are likely to make more contacts than adults," Hanage said.
An analysis published earlier this month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that a 9-year-old boy infected with the virus in eastern France did not pass it on to others, despite having close contact with more than 170 people.
Still, adolescents and teens may be more infectious than younger children, according to Hanage, at least based on the findings of an as-yet-unpublished study out of China.
The JAMA Pediatrics researchers reviewed 18 studies with data on more than 1,000 children, adolescents and teens 19 years of age and younger with confirmed COVID-19. All but one of the children included in these studies suffered no or few symptoms of the disease.
Those that did have symptoms reported only mild respiratory symptoms, including fever, dry cough and fatigue. There was only one case of severe COVID-19 infection among the 1,000-plus young people enrolled in the included studies, which occurred in a 13-month-old infant, researchers report.