Coronavirus UK: Are children at risk of infection? Expert warns ‘we just don’t understand’

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has predominantly targeted adults since it first emerged in December last year. The virus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, has infected more than 85,000 people worldwide.

The coronavirus has also killed almost 3,000 people, the majority of whom were at the epicentre in China’s Hubei Province.

Studies show the people most at risk of developing severe coronavirus symptoms are the elderly and patients with underlying medical problems.

But there are many unknowns about the viral threat and how it behaves could still change as the epidemic develops.

Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, warned experts still do not know just how COVID-19 will affect children.


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Professor Lipsitch predicted between 40 and 70 percent of the planet’s population could fall ill with the coronavirus.

He said: “It is, but an important qualifier is that I expect 40 to 70 percent of adults to be infected.

“We just don’t understand whether children are getting infected at low rates or just not showing very strong symptoms.

“So I don’t want to make assumptions about children until we know more.

“That number also assumes that we don’t put in place effective, long-term countermeasures, like social distancing for months at a time which, I think, is a fair assumption.

“It may be that a few places like China can sustain it, but even China is beginning to let up.”

I don’t want to make assumptions about children until we know more

Marc Lipsitch, Harvard T.H. Chan School

The coronavirus pathogen attacks the body’s respiratory system with flu-like symptoms.

The symptoms include fever, dry cough and fatigue in the initial stages.

If the COVID-19 infection further develops, it can turn into pneumonia, kidney failure and death.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the coronavirus takes up to 14 days to incubate inside a victim.

Professor Lipsitch said: “It’s definitely the case that the older you are, the more at risk of getting infected you are and, if you get symptomatic infection, the more at risk of dying you are.

“Men also seem to be overrepresented among those getting severe illness.

“The reasons why are a really important research question.

“One thing that also needs to be looked at is the impact on health-care workers because they are at high risk of getting infected, and I would like to know whether they’re at higher risk of getting severe infection.”

The health expert added children have so far been underrepresented in the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections.

He suggested children might be catching the coronavirus but are not falling ill in the same way adults do.

Some patients who get infected with the coronavirus do not develop any symptoms at all – so-called asymptomatic carriers.

Professor Lipsitch said: “But we don’t know whether they’re infected and not as sick or whether there are a lot of kids that aren’t getting infected even when they’re exposed.”

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