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Susceptibility to and transmission of COVID-19 amongst children and adolescents compared with adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis

By Russell M Viner, Oliver T Mytton, Chris Bonell, G.J. Melendez-Torres, Joseph L Ward, Lee Hudson, Claire Waddington, James Thomas, Simon Russell, Fiona van der Klis, Archana Koiral, Shamez Ladhani, Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths, Nicholas G Davies, Robert Booy, Rosalind Eggo

Posted 24 May 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.05.20.20108126

Importance The degree to which children and young people are infected by and transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus is unclear. The role of children and young people in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is dependent on susceptibility, symptoms, viral load, social contact patterns and behaviour. Objective We undertook a rapid systematic review to address the question What is the susceptibility to and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by children and adolescents compared with adults? Data sources We searched PubMed and medRxiv up to 28 July 2020 and identified 13,926 studies, with additional studies identified through handsearching of cited references and professional contacts. Study Selection We included studies which provided data on the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in children and young people ( <20 years) compared with adults derived from contact-tracing or population-screening. We excluded single household studies. Data extraction and Synthesis We followed PRISMA guidelines for abstracting data, independently by 2 reviewers. Quality was assessed using a critical appraisal checklist for prevalence studies. Random effects meta-analysis was undertaken. Main Outcomes Secondary infection rate (contact-tracing studies) or prevalence or seroprevalence (population-screening studies) amongst children and young people compared with adults. Results 32 studies met inclusion criteria; 18 contact-tracing and 14 population-screening. The pooled odds ratio of being an infected contact in children compared with adults was 0.56 (0.37, 0.85) with substantial heterogeneity (95%). Three school contact tracing studies found minimal transmission by child or teacher index cases. Findings from population-screening studies were heterogenous and were not suitable for meta-analysis. The majority of studies were consistent with lower seroprevalence in children compared with adults, although seroprevalence in adolescents appeared similar to adults. Conclusions There is preliminary evidence that children and young people have lower susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2, with a 43% lower odds of being an infected contact. There is weak evidence that children and young people play a lesser role in transmission of SARS-CoV-2 at a population level. Our study provides no information on the infectivity of children.

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