Story at a glance

  • Data from coronavirus patients in South Korea finds that children, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, show traces of the coronavirus about 21 days after they are diagnosed.
  • This could be longer for asymptomatic patients, whose true date of infection is not known.

New research suggests that children infected with COVID-19 can shed or release viral particles into the environment for as long as 21 days after initial detection.

A study published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal documents a sample of 91 children from 22 locations in South Korea. Each of the children had been confirmed to have contracted the disease, with some being asymptomatic, presymptomatic and symptomatic over the course of the study. The study was conducted from Feb. 18 to March 31.

Researchers found that 58 percent of children were symptomatic and 22 percent were asymptomatic. Another 20 percent eventually developed symptoms. 

The most important finding was that the virus was still detectable for an average of 17.6 days overall, regardless of whether or not the individual child exhibited symptoms.

About half of the children who were symptomatic and about 20 percent of asymptomatic children were found to still shed the virus 21 days after the infection was confirmed.

The authors note that the asymptomatic children could have been shedding longer, given that the date of the onset of their infection is unknown.

“Fully half of symptomatic children with both upper and lower tract disease were still shedding virus at 21 days,” the authors wrote. “These are striking data, particularly since 86 of 88 diagnosed children (98%) either had no symptoms or mild or moderate disease.”

This gives researchers insight into how the virus manifests in children, and how long infected children may spread the virus or be contagious.

There are some limitations to the study, mainly the absence of quantitative methods to analyze virus transmissibility and infectivity. 

“These findings are highly relevant to the development of public health strategies to mitigate and contain spread within communities, particularly as affected communities begin their recovery phases,” Roberta DeBiasi and Meghan Delane of Children’s National Hospital and Research Institute said, according to CNBC.

They also called for further study into the role children play in transmitting the virus.

Published on Aug 28, 2020