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No Symptoms Shown in Over One-Third of COVID-19 Infected Children

Recent study may have implications for social and public health policies

Since the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic hit last year, one of the biggest topics surrounding its discussion has been how the disease impacts children. Whether or not kids should be going to school has been debated endlessly without a clear answer. A recent study conducted at the University of Alberta may now help to contribute to this conversation.

The paper, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, looked at children within the community who tested positive for COVID-19. Due to the fact that most research involving children focused primarily on ones presented to emergency rooms, the researchers sought out to explore which symptoms are most commonly seen in children with the disease outside of the hospital atmosphere.

The study analyzed 2,463 children that underwent testing for COVID-19 using either throat, nasal or other swab tests. While 476 of these were negative, 1,987 children were positive for a SARS-CoV-2 infection. While cough (24.5%) and rhinorrhea (19.3%) were common symptoms, children who tested negative also showed them, so they were deemed not predictive of a positive test. From the positive group, 714 (35.9%) were deemed to be asymptomatic.

"The concern from a public health perspective is that there is probably a lot of COVID-19 circulating in the community that people don't even realize," Finlay McAlister, one of the lead authors on the paper said. "When we see reports of 1,200 new cases per day in the province of Alberta, that's likely just the tip of the iceberg--there are likely many people who don't know they have the disease and are potentially spreading it."

While the results cannot speak definitively on the subject of school closures, it may help to add some insight into potential problems that may arise. With the information that one-third of children can be asymptomatic and spreading the disease, it may sway the policies one way or the other.

"It speaks to the school safety programs," McAlister said. "We can do all the COVID-19 questionnaires we want, but if one-third of the kids are asymptomatic, the answer is going to be no to all the questions--yet they're still infected."