Cases of COVID-19 in children appear to be less severe than those in adults, and may even be characterized by different symptoms, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A preliminary description published Monday finds that fewer children are hospitalized with COVID-19 infections and even fewer experience symptoms such as a fever, cough, or shortness of breath. The findings affirm earlier research from China that found pediatric COVID-19 cases appear less severe and may experience different symptoms.
Experts with the agency analyzed data from nearly 150,000 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases from all 50 states and four US territories collected between February 12 and April 2. The data included limited information on symptoms, underlying conditions, and hospitalization status. Less than 2 percent of these cases were among children. Of children diagnosed, less than three-quarters experienced symptoms with respiratory disease. By comparison, nine-in-ten US adults between the ages of 18 and 64 will develop such symptoms. Among the children who were hospitalized, a majority had at least one underlying condition, most commonly chronic lung disease (including asthma), cardiovascular disease, and immunosuppression.
Cases appear to get worse with age – even in children. In the more than 2,500 analyzed COVID-19 children cases, one-third of those cases occurred in children between 15 and 17, followed by 27 percent of those infected between 10 and 14. Though children infected with SARS-CoV-2 infection may experience less severe illness, hospitalizations and death still occur.
“Social distancing and everyday preventive behaviors remain important for all age groups because patients with less serious illness and those without symptoms likely play an important role in disease transmission,” writes the CDC.
Due to the burden currently placed on healthcare workers, the agency notes that many cases were missing data. Furthermore, testing practices vary from state-to-state and many of the cases occurred just days before the publication was released, which means their outcomes are unknown and may underestimate the severity of diseases or symptoms in infected children. Regardless, the CDC says its findings highlight the importance of surveillance strategies across the nation to understand the disease and its impacts on human health.
“These findings must be interpreted with caution because of the high percentage of cases missing data on important characteristics. Because persons with asymptomatic and mild disease, including children, are likely playing a role in [the] transmission and spread of COVID-19 in the community, social distancing and everyday preventive behaviors are recommended for persons of all ages to slow the spread of the virus, protect the health care system from being overloaded, and protect older adults and persons of any age with serious underlying medical conditions,” writes the CDC.