The National Institutes of Health (NIH) said in a release that it is launching the study, called Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2 (HEROS), “to help determine the rate of novel coronavirus infection in children and their family members.” NIH refers to the virus by its scientific designation, SARS-CoV-2.
“One interesting feature of this novel coronavirus pandemic is that very few children have become sick with COVID-19 compared to adults,” said NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. “Is this because children are resistant to infection with SARS-CoV-2, or because they are infected but do not develop symptoms? The HEROS study will help us begin to answer these and other key questions.”
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that “relatively few children with COVID-19 are hospitalized, and fewer children than adults experience fever, cough, or shortness of breath.”
Still, severe symptoms have been reported in children, including several deaths. In recent weeks, hospitals worldwide have described a mysterious condition in children they call “pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome,” with potential links to COVID-19.
British authorities, citing an NHS England alert, said the new syndrome had “overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters consistent with severe COVID-19 in children.”
Kawasaki disease causes swelling of arteries throughout the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The HEROS study will examine whether rates of infection by the virus differ between children with asthma or other allergic conditions and those who do not.
The study team will enroll 6,000 people across 11 cities in the United States, and they will monitor the children and their families for six months to determine who gets infected with the virus, whether it is transmitted to other family members, and which family members with the virus develop COVID-19.
Tina Hartert, the study’s lead and director of the Center for Asthma and Environmental Sciences Research, said the broader testing would give a clearer picture of how many children across the country are infected with the virus.
“So far, data on the extent of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the U.S. population have been limited to people who physically interact with the healthcare system: those who are tested ― especially those who test positive ― and those with severe disease,” Hartert said in a statement. That data, she said, doesn’t “enable us to understand the full extent of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the entire population.”
NIH investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.