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UVA doctor researching how COVID-19 affects children

A new study found babies can be severely affected by COVID-19.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Across the world, researchers are trying to understand how COVID-19 affects children.

Early on, health officials said the virus' effect on children was low. Overall, health officials have said that's still the case.

But a recent study points to new information.

University of Virginia Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Steven Zeichner took a close look at a new study that revealed a small percentage of children can become seriously ill. 

“It showed babies can be very severely infected or affected and that makes sense, because in many cases, babies have a much more severe infectious disease process than older children in part because their immune systems are not as mature and functional as older children or adults,” said Zeichner.

The study also found overall, older children who become infected with COVID-19 have a less severe disease.

More research needs to be done to understand why some children are more vulnerable to the virus than others, but he has an idea.

"Children who have underlying illnesses or are immunocompromised, children who are born with deficiencies, I would imagine those children are at a very high risk, but this is all information people are researching and it’ll take months to figure it out,” said Zeichner.

Zeichner said it’s still too early in the epidemic to determine why there are fewer cases among children compared to the older population.

“There have been a few hypotheses people have thrown out. There’s a protein on the virus that binds to one of our cells. Some people have speculated that children have fewer of those receptors, so their cells are less likely to get infected,” said Zeichner.

“Other people have speculated that older children may have some low-level partial immunity because many cases of the common cold are caused by coronavirus. If those children had an immune response to those mild coronavirus infections, then it some way it can cross-protect the agent for COVID-19.”

Further research is needed to prove whether the hypotheses are true.

Zeichner said have been cases of children carrying COVID-19 without showing any symptoms, which could be a way for the spread of the virus to go undetected.

“That really emphasizes the need for social distancing not only in adults but also in children,” said Zeichner. “That’s a very hard thing to do with children because as human beings, our first instinct is to see a child and hug them.”

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