Assessment of spread of SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR and concomitant serology in children in a region heavily affected by COVID-19 pandemic


Background. Several studies indicated that children seem to be less frequently infected with SARS-CoV-2 and potentially less contagious. To examine the spread of SARS-CoV-2 we combined both RT-PCR testing and serology in children in the most affected region in France, during the COVID-19 epidemic. Methods. From April 14, 2020 to May 12, 2020, we conducted a cross-sectional prospective, multicenter study. Healthy controls and pauci-symptomatic children from birth to age 15 years were enrolled by 27 ambulatory pediatricians. A nasopharyngeal swab was taken for detection of SARS-CoV-2 by RT-PCR and a microsample of blood for micro-method serology. Results. Among the 605 children, 322 (53.2%) were asymptomatic and 283 (46.8%) symptomatic. RT-PCR testing and serology were positive for 11 (1.8%) and 65 (10.7%) of all children, respectively. Only 3 children were RT-PCR-positive without any antibody response have been detected. The frequency of positivity on RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2 was significantly higher in children with positive serology than those with a negative one (12.3% vs 0.6%, p<0.001). Contact with a person with proven COVID-19 increased the odds of positivity on RT-PCR (OR 7.8, 95% confidence interval [1.5; 40.7]) and serology (15.1 [6.6; 34.6]). Conclusion. In area heavily affected by COVID-19, after the peak of the first epidemic wave and during the lockdown, the rate of children with positive SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR was very low (1.8%), but the rate of positive on serology was higher (10.7%). Most of PCR positive children had at the same time, positive serology suggesting a low risk of transmission.