Children can have coronavirus and antibodies at the same time, study shows

WASHINGTON — As scientists race towards a vaccine for the coronavirus pandemic, there’s still a lot about COVID-19 that doctors don’t know. One of the big mysteries surrounding the virus is how it affects and spreads from children. A new study is adding even more intrigue to the discussion. Researchers find COVID-19 and antibodies to the virus can exist in young patients at the same time.

Dr. Burak Bahar from Children’s National Hospital says this phenomenon is not how illnesses usually behave. The discovery has researchers warning that having COVID-19 antibodies may not guarantee the outbreak will slow.

“With most viruses, when you start to detect antibodies, you won’t detect the virus anymore. But with COVID-19, we’re seeing both,” the study’s lead author explains in a media release. “This means children still have the potential to transmit the virus even if antibodies are detected.”

How long does it take for coronavirus to pass?

The hospital’s study focuses on the time it takes patients to clear coronavirus from their systems. Looking at data on over 6,300 youngsters tested for the virus, researchers reveal it takes an average of 25 days before COVID-19 is no longer detectable. The average time to seropositivity, when antibodies appear in the blood, is 18 days.

Developing antibodies however, doesn’t mean you’re free and clear of the illness. The study finds it takes 36 days to develop enough neutralizing antibodies to potentially protect patients from re-infection.

Another 215 children had COVID antibody tests taken at Children’s National between March 13 and June 21. Thirty-three had testing for both the virus and antibodies during the pandemic. Of these 33 children, nine show coronavirus antibodies in their blood while also testing positive for COVID-19.

Younger children take longer to shed virus, especially girls

Study authors reveal that younger patients take longer to rid themselves of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. Children ages six to 15 clear the illness in about 32 days. Teens and young adults age 16 to 22 only take an average of 18 days to recover.

Researchers add young girls also face more difficulties dealing with the pandemic, taking 44 days on average to pass COVID-19. Young boys only take 25.5 days to clear their systems of infection.

“The takeaway here is that we can’t let our guard down just because a child has antibodies or is no longer showing symptoms,” warns Dr. Bahar. “The continued role of good hygiene and social distancing remains critical.”

Children’s National Hospital adds the next phase of research will investigate if SARS-CoV-2 can still be transmitted to others if the carrier has COVID-19 antibodies. Bahar’s teams says it’s still not clear if having antibodies equals being immune to the pandemic.

The study appears in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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