While some research has shown that children are infected with the coronavirus at a lower rate than adults, a new Chicago-based study raises questions about the role children have in spread the virus.

A study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital discovered that children younger than 5 years with mild to moderate COVID-19 have much higher levels of genetic material for the virus in the nose compared to older children and adults.

In fact, children can have up to 100 times more of the virus in the nose, according to the study which was published Thursday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Lead author, Dr. Taylor Heald-Sargent, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Lurie Children’s, and colleagues analyzed 145 cases of mild to moderate COVID-19 illness within the first week of symptom onset, according to a press release from the hospital.

They compared the viral load in three age groups – children younger than 5 years, children 5-17 years and adults 18-65 years.

“This has important public health implications, especially during discussions on the safety of reopening schools and daycare,” said Dr. Heald-Sargent. “…Our study was not designed to prove that younger children spread COVID-19 as much as adults, but it is a possibility.”

Researchers determined the ability of younger children to spread COVID-19 may have been under-recognized given the rapid and sustained closure of schools and daycare during the pandemic, the news release stated.

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