Importance: In the early COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 testing was only accessible and recommended for symptomatic persons or adults. This restriction hampered assessment of the true incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children as well as detailed characterization of the SARS-CoV-2 disease spectrum and how this spectrum compared with that of other common respiratory illnesses. Objective: To estimate the community incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children and parents and to assess the symptoms and symptom severity of respiratory illness episodes involving SARS-CoV-2-positive test results relative to those with SARS-CoV-2-negative test results. Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study randomly selected Dutch households with at least 1 child younger than 18 years. A total of 1209 children and adults from 307 households were prospectively followed up between August 25, 2020, and July 29, 2021, covering the second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participation included SARS-CoV-2 screening at 4- to 6-week intervals during the first 23 weeks of participation (core study period; August 25, 2020, to July 29, 2021). Participants in all households finishing the core study before July 1, 2021, were invited to participate in the extended follow-up and to actively report respiratory symptoms using an interactive app until July 1, 2021. At new onset of respiratory symptoms or a SARS-CoV-2 positive test result, a household outbreak study was initiated, which included daily symptom recording, repeated polymerase chain reaction testing (nose-throat swabs and saliva and fecal samples), and SARS-CoV-2 antibody measurement (paired dried blood spots) in all household members. Outbreaks, households, and episodes of respiratory illness were described as positive or negative depending on SARS-CoV-2 test results. Data on participant race and ethnicity were not reported because they were not uniformly collected in the original cohorts and were therefore not representative or informative. Exposures: SARS-CoV-2-positive and SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes. Main Outcomes and Measures: Age-stratified incidence rates, symptoms, and symptom severity for SARS-CoV-2-positive and SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes. Results: Among 307 households including 1209 participants (638 female [52.8%]; 403 [33.3%] aged <12 years, 179 [14.8%] aged 12-17 years, and 627 [51.9%] aged ≥18 years), 183 household outbreaks of respiratory illness were observed during the core study and extended follow-up period, of which 63 (34.4%) were SARS-CoV-2 positive (59 outbreaks [32.2%] during the core study and 4 outbreaks [2.2%] during follow-up). SARS-CoV-2 incidence was similar across all ages (0.24/person-year [PY]; 95% CI, 0.21-0.28/PY). Overall, 33 of 134 confirmed SARS-CoV-2 episodes (24.6%) were asymptomatic. The incidence of SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes was highest in children younger than 12 years (0.94/PY; 95% CI, 0.89-0.97/PY). When comparing SARS-CoV-2-positive vs SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes in children younger than 12 years, no differences were observed in number of symptoms (median [IQR], 2 [2-4] for both groups), symptom severity (median [IQR] maximum symptom severity score, 6 [4-9] vs 7 [6-13]), or symptom duration (median [IQR], 6 [5-12] days vs 8 [4-13] days). However, among adults, SARS-CoV-2-positive episodes had a significantly higher number (median [IQR], 6 [4-8] vs 3 [2-4]), severity (median [IQR] maximum symptom severity score, 15 [9-19] vs 7 [6-11]), and duration (median [IQR] 13 [8-29] days vs 5 [3-11] days; P < .001 for all comparisons) of symptoms vs SARS-CoV-2-negative episodes. Conclusions and Relevance: In this cohort study, during the first pandemic year when mostly partial or full in-person learning occurred, the SARS-CoV-2 incidence rate in children was substantially higher than estimated from routine testing or seroprevalence data and was similar to that of adult household members. Unlike in unvaccinated adults, SARS-CoV-2 symptoms and symptom severity in children were similar to other common respiratory illnesses. These findings may prove useful when developing pediatric COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.
|Number of pages||13|
|Journal||JAMA network open|
|Publication status||Published - 20 Oct 2022|