A CDC-supported study of infection rates among children in Mississippi show the actual number of juvenile cases of COVID-19 may be much higher than first reported.
The findings, released Thursday, also showed Hispanic and Black children infection rates were 2.4 and 4.3 times, respectively, higher than the rate for white children.
The study looked at about 1,600 blood samples taken from children within a range of a few months old to less than 18 years old between May and September as part of routine testing at academic medical center laboratories in Mississippi.
Of the samples tested, 175 showed signs of coronavirus antibodies, or about 10.9% of the samples over the nearly five-month period. Researchers say analysis of the data suggest that around 2.6% of children had antibodies in May, and “16.3% of children and adolescents in Mississippi might have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 by mid-September 2020.”
Based on the study, researchers would have expected to see more than 113,800 reported cases of coronavirus among children younger than 18 in Mississippi between March and mid-September.
The actual number of juvenile coronavirus cases reported in Mississippi through the end of August was 8,993.
“While we see that younger children more commonly have milder disease with COVID-19, it turns out that there are a lot more kids infected with SARS-CoV-2 than case numbers indicate,” said lead author Dr. Charlotte Hobbs, professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases specialist at University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Breaking out the data by race/ethnicity shows wider disparities among communities of color.
Roughly 23% of the samples from Hispanic children showed antibodies while 13% of the samples from Black children did. By comparison, only about 5% of the samples from white children tested positive for coronavirus antibodies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says most people who contract COVID-19 develop antibodies within 1-2 weeks of virus onset.
Overall, the data suggests those younger than 18 have a similar cumulative infection rate to those between 18-to-49 years old, the CDC report finds.
“This study clearly shows that kids can be infected with this virus and underscores the importance of abiding by CDC guidelines to protect against infection for those across the age spectrum,” Dr. Hobbs said.