Commentary

COVID-19 and the superspreaders: Teens


 

Although cases of COVID-19 in children is reported to be low, we are seeing a surge in Wisconsin with a 27.6% positivity rate reported on Sept. 27. Numerous other states across the country are reporting similar jumps of 10% or more.

Ms. Margaret Thew, medical director of the department of adolescent medicine at Children's Wisconsin in Milwaukee

Ms. Margaret Thew

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as of Sept. 20, 2020, there were 10,644 cumulative cases in persons aged less than 18 years. This rise in cases is consistent with a return to school and sports. This cumulative case load amounts to 836.7/100, 000 cases. This population may not experience the level of illness seen in the older populations with hospitalization rates of only 3% under the age of 9 years and 13% of those age 10- 19-years, yet exposing older family and members of the community is driving the death rates. The combined influenza and COVID-19 season may greatly impact hospitalization rates of young and old. Additionally, we may see a surge in pediatric cancer rates and autoimmune diseases secondary to these trends.

I believe the overall number of adolescents with COVID-19 is underreported. Teens admit to a lack of understanding of symptoms. Many do not realize they have COVID-19 until someone points out the symptoms they describe such as a loss of taste or smell are COVID-19 symptoms. Others report they do not report symptoms to prevent quarantine. Additionally, others endorse ridicule from peers if they have tested positive and contract tracing identifies others potentially exposed and forced to sit out of sports because of quarantine. They have been bullied into amnesia when contract tracers call to prevent identifying others at school or in the community. All these behaviors proliferate the spread of disease within the community and will continue to drive both exposures and death rates.

Teens in high schools require increased education of the symptoms of COVID-19, promotion of the flu vaccine, and knowledge of the impact they can have on preventing the spread of viruses.

Ms. Thew is the medical director of the department of adolescent medicine at Children’s Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She is a member of the Pediatric News editorial advisory board. She said she had no relevant financial disclosures. Email her at [email protected].

Reference

COVID-19: Wisconsin Cases, Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Accessed 2020 Sep 27.

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