According to a new study, SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 spreads widely in households, with children being a major source of infection. During the study period, approximately half of the household members were infected by the first-infected individual. Although children were less likely than adults to spread the virus, both children and adults were equally likely to become infected from the first-infected individual.

The antibody surveillance study, “Household transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from unvaccinated asymptomatic and symptomatic household members with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection,” published in CMAJ Open (Canadian Medical Association Journal), included 695 participants from 180 Ottawa households between September 2020 and March 2021. The study included households with at least one member who had a confirmed COVID-19 infection, and each participating household had at least one child.

“Our study was carried out when we were dealing with a less transmissible virus and pandemic restrictions were strictly enforced, and we still had a 50% transmission rate within households.” “With an extremely transmissible variant of COVID-19 and the majority of pandemic restrictions lifted, it’s safe to say transmission rates will be higher even though we have a high vaccination rate among those who are eligible,” said Dr. Maala Bhatt, the study’s lead author and Associate Professor of Pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine.

“I understand that many people want to ‘live with COVID’ and abandon the layers of protection that were previously mandated, but it’s critical to be aware of the virus’s high transmissibility in closed, indoor settings, such as schools.” Our most vulnerable and youngest children, who are not yet vaccinated, are still at risk of contracting COVID.”

COVID-19 is becoming more prevalent in Eastern Ontario. The COVID-19 wastewater viral signal in Ottawa is at an all-time high. Furthermore, according to regional public health units, the region’s test positivity rate is high. The number of COVID-19 positive admissions to CHEO has been approaching the levels seen in January and early February in recent weeks. During the Omicron wave, three-quarters of all children admitted to CHEO with COVID-19 arrived. Since the beginning of January, one in every three of the approximately 4,900 monthly visits to the Emergency Department has been for COVID-19-related symptoms.

Listings of WHO's response to COVID-19

The study hypothesised that as more infectious variants emerged, children would become “an even greater source of spread within households.” Children have a “considerable potential to spread” in places like school and daycare, where they congregate indoors for long periods of time, especially now that masking is not required in many jurisdictions.

“While we’re fortunate that hospitals aren’t currently overcrowded, emergency departments are, and positivity rates, even among children, are on the rise,” said Dr. Bhatt, paediatric emergency physician and Director of Emergency Medicine Research at CHEO, as well as an Investigator at the CHEO Research Institute.

“We continue to learn more about COVID-19 and its potential long-term health effects, and we’re still not sure how long immunity lasts; these are all things that researchers are looking into.” As significant COVID-19 transmission continues within households and throughout the community, it’s critical to keep yourself and those around you safe – mask while indoors, wash your hands, get vaccinated with all the doses you’re eligible for, stay home if you’re sick, and limit close contacts.”

The Langlois Laboratory at the University of Ottawa, led by Dr. Marc-André Langlois, Executive Director of CoVaar-Net, was instrumental in this study, as were the Ottawa families who participated. This study was supported by the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund, the PSI Foundation, and the Children’s Hospital Academic Medical Organization (CHAMO) Innovation Fund.

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