The highly contagious strain of COVID-19 known as B.1.1.7 is now found in all 50 states, and data suggests it may affect children more than people realize.
Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, recently said Boston 25 News that B.1.1.7 has made him rethink his position on the reopening of schools for face-to-face learning. “It is a totally different virus in the sense of what it is doing epidemiologically,” he said. “I believe that the school openings today will greatly improve the transmission of B.1.1.7 in our communities, and I predict that within weeks we will return to this issue, unfortunately, after we have had a substantial transmission.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists B.1.1.7 as a “variant of concern,” meaning researchers are keeping a close eye on it. The variant appears to spread easily and quickly, and may cause a higher risk of death than previous variants.
According to CDC data, B.1.1.7 is now the most widely circulated variant in the United States, accounting for 32 percent of cases in the country.
Other data have suggested that the variant is more likely to infect children. A report published in the British medical journal found that more than 50,000 Israeli children tested positive for the virus in January, more than any other month during the first and second waves of the virus in the country. In Italy, 10 percent of the village of Corzano tested positive for COVID-19 on February 3, and 60 percent of them were infants and children of primary school age, who later transmitted the virus to adults.
A research article published in the journal Science It also found that children are more likely to be infected with B.1.1.7 than other variants of concern.
But … What does this mean for children in the US?
It’s hard to say for sure, Dr. Juan Salazar, pediatric infectious disease specialist and chief physician at Connecticut Children’s, tells Yahoo Life. “B.1.1.7 is more contagious and lately there has been more contact between children than six months or a year ago,” he says. “With that, there is a greater risk of spread.”
In Michigan, which is currently experiencing a large increase in cases, including those due to B.1.1.7, COVID-19 cases among children ages 10 to 19 in the state increased 133 percent last week compared with the previous four weeks, according to the Detroit News.
“There are signs that children can spread the COVID variant in the UK more easily than the initial strain,” said Dr Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey School of Medicine and chief of service in the emergency department of the University. Hospital, he tells Yahoo Life. “This would mean that without proper precautions, they could take the variant strain home or spread it to others elsewhere. This is a particular concern for many given the return to the classroom along with reduced social distancing in the right circumstances. recommended by the CDC. The disease in children still appears to be mild, but it is not without a small risk of serious effects. “
Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Safety, tells Yahoo Life that children are more likely to get B.1.1.7 in the US. At this time simply because it is the dominant strain circulating. “If children get infected and B.1.1.7 is present, then they are going to get B.1.1.7,” he says.
But Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life that there may be something different about the way the strain affects children. The increase in cases of B.1.1.7 in children “could be related to a better union in the lung epithelial cells of children compared to other strains,” he says. (Epithelial cells provide a protective barrier in the lungs and help initiate the immune response to viruses and other diseases.)
As for whether B.1.1.7 is more dangerous for children, it’s hard to say for sure right now, Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Yahoo Life. “Children may be receiving B.1.1.7, but that does not mean they are getting sicker,” he says. Salazar agrees. However, he notes: “When more children are infected, there is a greater risk that more children will end up in the hospital.”
Still, Salazar adds, he has not seen an increase in severe cases in children due to B.1.1.7 at his medical center. “This virus has affected children since the pandemic began, but I have not seen an increase in children entering the ICU due to B.1.1.7,” he says.
As for Nelson, he believes that B.1.1.7 may simply be “more transmissible, and children have simply been a relatively protected host up to this point and thus can serve as a larger reservoir.”
In general, experts urge parents to be diligent in keeping their children safe. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a news conference Monday that young people are driving COVID-19 cases across the country due to the reopening of schools and youth sports. “We are learning that many outbreaks in youth are related to youth sports and extracurricular activities. According to the CDC guidance, these activities should be limited,” he said.
“We are concerned that schools will have outbreaks related to extracurricular activities,” says Adalja. “We have to be much more careful with extracurricular activities.”
Watkins urges parents to continue to practice good COVID-19 safety protocols for themselves and their families, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and careful hand hygiene. “It’s easy to let your guard down with vaccination becoming more widespread, but obviously children can’t get vaccinated right now,” he says.
Salazar agrees that it is important for families to remain diligent in preventing COVID-19. “If we can do that and continue vaccines, hopefully we’ll have a calmer summer,” he says.
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