COVID-19 Publications

Risk of infection and transmission of SARSCoV-2 among children and adolescents in households, communities and educational settings: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Tags: | August 9th, 2021

Authors: O Irfan, J Li, K Tang, Z Wang, ZA Bhuta

Published in: Journal of global health



Background There is uncertainty with respect to SARS-CoV-2 transmission in children (0-19 years) with controversy on effectiveness of school-closures in controlling the pandemic. It is of equal importance to evaluate the risk of transmission in children who are often asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers that may incidentally transmit SARS-CoV-2 in different settings. We conducted this review to assess transmission and risks for SARS-CoV-2 in children (by age groups or grades) in community and educational-settings compared to adults.

Methods Data for the review were retrieved from PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, WHO COVID-19 Database, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) Database, WanFang Database, Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature (LILACS), Google Scholar, and preprints from medRixv and bioRixv) covering a timeline from December 1, 2019 to April 1, 2021. Population-screening, contact-tracing and cohort studies reporting prevalence and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in children were included. Data were extracted according to PRISMA guidelines. Meta-analyses were performed using Review Manager 5.3.

Results Ninety studies were included. Compared to adults, children showed comparable national (risk ratio (RR)=0.87, 95% confidence interval (CI)=0.71-1.060 and subnational (RR=0.81, 95% CI=0.66-1.01) prevalence in population-screening studies, and lower odds of infection in community/household contact-tracing studies (odds ratio (OR) =0.62, 95% CI=0.46-0.84). On disaggregation, adolescents observed comparable risk (OR=1.22, 95% CI=0.74-2.04) with adults. In educational-settings, children attending daycare/preschools (OR=0.53, 95% CI=0.38-0.72) were observed to be at lower-risk when compared to adults, with odds of infection among primary (OR=0.85, 95% CI=0.55-1.31) and high-schoolers (OR=1.30, 95% CI=0.71-2.38) comparable to adults. Overall, children and adolescents had lower odds of infection in educational-settings compared to community and household clusters.

Conclusions Children (<10 years) showed lower susceptibility to COVID-19 compared to adults, whereas adolescents in communities and high-schoolers had comparable risk. Risks of infection among children in educational-settings was lower than in communities. Evidence from school-based studies demonstrate it is largely safe for children (<10 years) to be at schools, however older children (10-19 years) might facilitate transmission. Despite this evidence, studies focusing on the effectiveness of mitigation measures in educational settings are urgently needed to support both public health and educational policy-making for school reopening.

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