How COVID-19 affects children: What we know so far

  • The coronavirus has moved, with a variant called B.1.1.7 causing concern.
  • Emerging evidence suggests that B.1.1.7 is likely to be approximately 70% more infectious than other variants.
  • It is increasingly speculated that children are more susceptible to the variant infection, but we do not know for sure.
  • The largest teaching union in the UK has asked schools to remain closed for two weeks from 4 January.
  • That’s all we know so far.
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A variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7 causes major disruptions, precipitating new blockages and travel restrictions.

Experts are beginning to suggest that children are more susceptible to B.1.1.7. – and the largest teachers’ union in the UK has called for schools to remain closed for two weeks from 4 January.

The evidence, for the time being, remains inconclusive, and scientists continue to investigate. Here’s what we know so far.

Why is it more infectious?

An increasing number of people are becoming infected with COVID-19 – the disease that causes coronavirus – and scientists say B.1.1.7 is probably more infectious, but there is still evidence.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday that the British version was likely to have already spread to the US.

Further information is expected in the coming weeks, but B.1.1.7 is not thought to be more or less fatal than the original virus.

It is normal for a virus to mutate and there have already been tens of thousands of coronavirus mutations.

However, the new variant significantly modifies the virus, potentially changing its behavior. For example, B.1.1.7 has changes in the spike protein – the part of the virus that is used to infect cells – which could mean that it enters cells more easily.

Spike protein is also the target of vaccines, but experts believe the vaccines will continue to work.

Are children more susceptible to the new variant?

“There is an indication that he has a greater tendency to infect children,” Professor Neil Ferguson told reporters on Monday. He is an infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London and also a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Group – NERVTAG – the British government’s advisory group.

The reason for the difference may be that the body’s ACE-2 receptor, where the virus binds, is slightly different in children and adults.

Ferguson told the Commons Selection Committee on Wednesday that there had been anecdotal reports of the variant in schools in areas of England now under the strictest blockade.

The concern contrasts with previous variants of the coronavirus circulating in the UK. Chris Whitty, the British chief physician, said in an August statement that there was reasonable – though not conclusive – evidence that primary school children would be less likely to catch COVID-19 than the general population.

Professor Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London and a member of NERVTAG, said in a briefing to reporters on Tuesday that B.1.1.7 could be better linked to the ACE-2 receptor in children. adding that he is speculating.

“I haven’t seen any data that says it’s actually transmitted more to children,” Barclay said.

Barclay explained that it is unusual for children not to be affected by a respiratory virus.

“We know that almost all other respiratory infections are spread among children. It wouldn’t surprise me that they eventually spread quite freely [amongst children],” she said,

Ferguson said Wednesday that there was a small – but statistically significant – increased proportion of cases under 15 with the new variant compared to the old version. He said that does not mean it will affect children worse.

“I would like to emphasize – although it is a significant change [in age distribution], is not a huge change. It’s relatively small, “he added.

“Too early to tell”

Ferguson, whose predictions of the coronavirus triggered the first blockage in Britain, said scientists need to gather more data to see how the variant behaves.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Monday, Ferguson said he expected a decline in all variants of the virus in circulation while schools remain closed for the holidays, but that it was too early to say exactly what further action might be needed in the new year.

Some scientists have argued that schools should be closed only as a last resort. Professor Deenan Pillay, a professor of virology at University College London, told the Guardian on Monday that the emphasis should be on supporting schools to function as safely as possible.

“It’s easy to start thinking of this variant as a different virus, but no, it’s the same virus. And it’s transmitted in the same way,” he said.

The British government could rely on tests to support schools.

“If we work together on testing, we can keep schools open,” Gavin Williamson, Britain’s education secretary, said in a statement on Monday.

The variant can be detected by normal tests, although some can be easily modified. A test used by large laboratories in the UK analyzes three parts of the genetic sequence of the virus. B.1.1.7 mutations mean that only two of the three normally occurring parts of the virus return positive.

Experts recommend that measures that restrict the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, remain paramount. The challenge will come in 2021 when decisions need to be made about schools.

“The real question then is – how much are we able to relax the measures in the new year and still keep control?” said Ferguson.

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