Scientific article
Open access

The role of children and adolescents in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: a rapid review

Published inSwiss medical weekly, vol. 151, w30058
Publication date2021-09-17
First online date2021-09-17

BACKGROUND: There has been much discussion about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in children and adolescents, since the pandemic was recognised in early 2020. Understanding their role in this pandemic is important for the development of appropriate prevention measures.

OBJECTIVE: To summarise evidence about three aspects of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in children and adolescents: (1) severity of SARS-CoV-2 presentation, (2) risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and (3) risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2.

METHODS: We searched PubMed and MedRxiv for studies on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in children and adolescents from January 2020 to 21 January 2021. The electronic search was supplemented by papers found in a manual search or suggested by experts up to 29 March 2021. We included case reports, cross-sectional studies, cohort studies, narrative reviews or viewpoints, systematic reviews and modelling studies. We synthesised the information descriptively and attempted to report findings separately for: infants and small children (0-5 years) who are mostly pre-school; school children (6-12 years) broadly covering primary school years; and adolescents (13-17 years).

RESULTS: Of 2778 screened articles, we included 63 (20 case reports, 18 cross-sectional studies, 8 cohort studies, 6 narrative reviews or viewpoints, 10 systematic reviews and 1 modelling study). Children (≤12 years of age) and adolescents (13-17 years of age) usually present with mild disease, with few requiring intensive care treatment. A minority of children of all ages (<18 years) remains asymptomatic throughout the course of infection. In serological studies, reported symptoms are similar in children with and without SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Children and adolescents can acquire and transmit SARS-CoV-2. The risks of acquiring and transmitting SARS-CoV-2 seems to increase with age. There was limited information about SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. Poor reporting of age groups and contextual factors such as levels of community transmission, school closures and other non-pharmaceutical interventions make synthesis of findings across studies difficult.

CONCLUSIONS: The clinical presentation and role of children and adolescents in SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility and transmission needs further investigation, particularly with regard to variants of concern. Large, prospective studies that attempt to minimise biases in design, are analysed appropriately and reported comprehensively should be conducted.

  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pandemics
  • Prospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2
Citation (ISO format)
WIEDENMANN, Margarethe et al. The role of children and adolescents in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: a rapid review. In: Swiss medical weekly, 2021, vol. 151, p. w30058. doi: 10.4414/smw.2021.w30058
Main files (1)
Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal0036-7672

Technical informations

Creation10/03/2021 3:31:00 PM
First validation10/03/2021 3:31:00 PM
Update time03/16/2023 1:50:26 AM
Status update03/16/2023 1:50:25 AM
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