Coronavirus: Hong Kong researchers fear children could spread virus more easily

  • More than 40 per cent of the city’s confirmed Covid-19 cases in kids under three showed no symptoms
  • Parents are reminded to have their children tested, especially if they have a fever or cough

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Since so many children who test positive for Covid-19 don't show any symptoms, there are concerns they could be silent spreaders. Photo: SCMP / Edmond So

Local researchers have found that children could be more contagious, silent carriers of Covid-19, with over 40 per cent of Hong Kong’s confirmed cases in kids aged three and below displaying no symptoms.

Data collected locally by researchers at Chinese University showed the coronavirus survived in stool samples for as long as 36 days in the case of one child. Researchers in the city also cited a separate study in the United States that showed toddlers had significantly higher viral loads than even adults who needed intensive care, making them more contagious.

“They are more likely to become a hidden source of infection, and may play a role in community transmission,” Professor Ng Siew-chien, associate director of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research at the university, said on Tuesday.

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“While we are working intensively to prevent high-risk individuals from being infected, it is important to come up with a solution to avoid unfavourable outcomes in young children.”

The researchers said stool sample testing could be an accurate, safe and effective way to screen for Covid-19 among children, especially as schools will gradually reopen after the Easter break.

Chinese University started providing free stool sample screening for children last March, completing 17,500 tests between then and March 25 this year. Among those, 22 children tested positive, a rate of up to two for every 1,000 tested.

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Asymptomatic infections made up 70 per cent of the confirmed cases, while 90 per cent were aged six or younger.

Data also showed Hong Kong had a higher proportion of Covid-19 infections among children than mainland China, Italy, Spain and the United States. Up until March 25, out of 11,429 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong, 201 were children aged three and below, 40 per cent of whom were asymptomatic.

Professor Paul Chan Kay-sheung, chairman of Chinese University’s microbiology department, called for more attention on younger populations as they could easily spread the virus through the community.

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Another of the researchers, Professor Albert Martin Li, reminded parents to have their children screened for Covid-19, especially if they were exhibiting symptoms such as a fever and cough, which were similar to those of the flu.

“This is especially important for those who feel sick after visiting high-risk areas, or the residential building they live in has to undergo compulsory testing, or there is a reported sickness of unknown cause in school personnel and students.”

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