Delta transmission in children low, causes mild illness, report finds

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There has been a five-fold increase in the spread of COVID-19 in educational settings but only 2 per cent of children who caught it during the latest outbreak have been hospitalised, and most experienced mild or no symptoms, a new report from the National Centre for Immunisation and Research has found.

Transmission between children has also been low, it found.

The report looked at transmission of COVID-19 in schools and households between June 16 and July 31, and found that the NSW experience was consistent with overseas studies showing the Delta variant was more transmissible and led to more infections among children and young people.

Professor Kristine McCartney, a specialist at The Sydney’s Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said the rate of transmission between children was low, and most of the transmission was between unvaccinated adults. “The spread between children themselves was very low,” she said.

The report found that across 19 schools and 32 early childcare services, there were 59 people – 34 students and 25 staff members – who attended while infectious. From those primary cases, 2347 people were considered close contacts.

The overall transmission rate at early childhood centres was 4.7 per cent, with 106 secondary cases involving 69 students and 37 staff members. Transmission occurred in 19 of the 51 settings. The highest transmission in early childhood settings was between staff members, and from a staff member to children.

Transmission was lower in schools, the report said, at a rate of 2.1 per cent; there were nine secondary cases in 728 close contacts.

“This was likely due to the school holiday period and subsequent limited onsite attendance in term 3,” the report said.

The rate of transmission was five times higher than in the first outbreak.

Dr Archana Koirala, a paediatric infectious disease specialist and University of Sydney lecturer, said full participation in education services was essential for children to learn and develop socially.

“These results should give confidence to families, schools and the community that we have robust evidence on how the Delta variant behaves in children,” she said.

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