Recently in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers reviewed 32 studies worldwide comprising 41,640 children and adolescents under the age of 20, as well as 268,945 adults. The analysis also included 18 studies, including three based in schools, in which scientists had traced the contacts of infected individuals.
The analysis found — like the new C.D.C. study — that younger children are roughly half as likely as adults to become infected, and that children older than 14 may be just as likely as adults to be infected. Antibody studies also suggested that adolescents seemed to be similar to adults in terms of their risk of infection.
Experts praised the scientists for trying to make sense of studies that vary widely in methods, in cultural milieu and even in how they defined children — ranging anywhere from 10 years to 20 years as the outer limit.
The evidence over all from these studies suggested that younger children are relatively protected from the virus, but older teenagers — those aged 15 and older — are roughly at the same risk as adults, said Dr. Cevik, who led a similar analysis.
”I think we need to consider the older adolescent group, over the age of 15, as an adult, because they have similar social patterns,” she said. “Also, they have potentially much larger networks, compared to adults.”
Other experts said it was clear that younger children could transmit the virus, even if less efficiently than older teenagers and adults — and thus might help perpetuate an outbreak, particularly in communities with high levels of infections.
“We know that they can get the virus,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University in New York, referring to children. “And if we know that they are able to pass it on, if we presume that they’re not complete dead ends, then they’re participating in the transmission cycle.”