South Korean scientists, whose study involved 91 children, found that the virus was still present in the swabs used in these minors up to three weeks after infection, even in the case of children with few or no symptoms of Covid-19.
This means that, even when asymptomatic, children can, in theory, transmit the virus that is present in their nose for several weeks, infecting other people.
Even so, the study failed to determine whether the rate of contagion through children is as high as that seen among adults. This is the question that continues to challenge scientists.
If, on the one hand, some experts warn that children have a significant role in the transmission of Covid-19 disease when they have it, others argue that the fact that many children are asymptomatic reduces the risk of transmission as they sneeze and cough less.
“The presence of genetic material from the virus in swabs placed in the respiratory tract does not necessarily equate to the level of transmission, particularly in people who do not have important symptoms such as coughing or sneezing”, explicou to BBC University of Liverpool professor Calum Semple. Scientists believe that even if they are infected with the virus, children are less likely to show signs of illness. Previous studies have concluded that the vast majority of infected children are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
The chairman of the UK pediatric professional body (Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health), Russell Viner, told the BBC that antibody tests suggest that children – especially those under the age of 12 – are less likely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 than adults.
Despite the possibility that returning to school could reverse this trend, Viner considers that keeping schools closed for longer is not a solution, as it also poses risks – namely with regard to children’s development, education and mental health.
Therefore, the specialist warns of the importance of social distance and good hygiene when returning to school.
To date, the new coronavirus has infected almost 25 million people worldwide, of which 837,000 are fatal victims. More than 16 million people have recovered from the disease.