Younger children are more likely to transmit COVID-19 compared to their older counterparts, according to a new study. Babies and toddlers age three and under are more likely to spread the virus to other people in their household compared to teenagers aged 14 to 17.
Though babies and toddlers are less likely to bring the virus home to their families, they can spread it to other people they live with faster than older kids and teens. The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics this week, does not suggest that toddlers and babies are more contagious overall or that they are primarily driving the pandemic.
But it proves that younger children do play a role in the pandemic.
The study was comprised of 6,280 Canadian households and took place between June 1 and December 31, 2020. The odds of transmission ages 0-3 years old was 1.43 compared to children between the ages of 14 and 17. What this means is that younger children (0-3) have a greater risk of transmitting COVID to caregivers and siblings in their household versus older children.
In the household setting, younger children aged 0-3 years may have greater risk of transmitting #SARSCoV2 infection… https://t.co/dAD4ijli9o
— JAMA Pediatrics (@JAMAPediatrics)
Why? Well, behavioral factors are the biggest indicator of the spread. Babies and toddlers require a lot more hands-on, intimate care overall and can't be isolated when they're sick.
"As the number of pediatric cases increases worldwide, the role of children in household transmission will continue to grow," the study concludes. "We found that younger children may be more likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with older children, and the highest odds of transmission were observed for children aged 0 to 3 years."
As the pandemic continues, science adapts. Early on in the pandemic, some public health experts surmised that the risk of transmission declined with age (meaning many experts didn't think little ones played a significant role in the spread). Now that we're 18 months into the pandemic and young children are no longer isolated at home, kids are having more social encounters than last year.
large new study found teens were more likely to bring Covid-19 into a household but babies and toddlers were more l… https://t.co/453tajJkcA
— Rachel Cohen (@rmc031)
Dr. Edith Bracho Sanchez, a primary care pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, tells ABC News that what we know now is almost "the opposite of what we had been told" early on.
"It just shows how humble we have to be when it comes to children and this virus," Dr. Sanchez explains. We always knew children could get it, could transmit it, and could get sick with COVID. I think we're learning more and more just how much."
Though children do not appear to transmit the infection as often as adults, the study concluded by saying caregivers of sick children—especially babies and toddlers—should apply other infection control measures like mask-wearing, hand-washing, and separation from siblings to help prevent virus spread.