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Living with Kids May Increase Risk of Contracting COVID-19

A man putting a face mask on a small female child.

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Key Takeaways

  • A new study from the United Kingdom has found that adults living with children appear to be at a slightly increased risk of getting COVID-19 compared to adults who do not live with kids.
  • The increase was only seen with the second wave of the pandemic in England and not with the first wave. Additionally, the risk was higher depending on the age of the children, with a slightly higher risk for adults living with children aged 12 to 18.
  • The researchers also noted that adults younger than age 65 who lived with children under the age of 11 had a reduced risk of dying from COVID-19.

A recent study from the United Kingdom found that adults who live with children may have a slightly increased risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 and having COVID-19 symptoms.

However, the researchers noted that the association was only seen during the second wave of the pandemic in the U.K. (September through December 2020) and not during the first wave (February through August 2020).

For the study, the researchers used data from OpenSAFELY, a data analytics platform created on behalf of the National Health Service of England. It contains pseudonymized data from secure health records on more than 58 million people.

The researchers examined data from two groups of adults who registered at general practices in the United Kingdom on February 1, 2020 (during the first wave of the pandemic there) and September 1, 2020 (during the second wave). Included in the data were more than 9 million patients aged 18 to 65 and about 2.6 million people over the age of 65.  

Teenagers Put Adults at Higher Risk

The results of the study indicated that adults living with kids of certain ages might have been at a slightly increased risk for getting COVID during the second wave of the pandemic, but not the first.

During the second wave of the pandemic, adults under the age of 65 appeared to have a slightly increased risk of getting COVID and a slightly increased risk of a COVID-related hospitalization if they lived with kids.

The study found that the risk of getting COVID-19 was slightly higher for adults living with children between the ages of 12 and 18 compared with adults living with kids up to age 11.

For adults over the age of 65 living with children, there was no evidence of an association with an increased risk of getting COVID during the first wave of the pandemic. During the second wave, there did appear to be an increased risk of recorded SARS-CoV-2 infection, but not of COVID-related hospitalization.

Laurie Tomlinson, PhD, associate professor at the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a co-author of the study, tells Verywell that the researchers "didn’t anticipate seeing clear differences between the first and second waves of the U.K. pandemic," noting that the "absolute increase in risk in the second wave to adults living with children was small.”

Why Kids and Teens Might Increase Risk

People living with children are more likely to come down with respiratory infections and colds in general. Therefore, the researchers wanted to determine if there was a similar increased risk of severe COVID-19 infections for adults and, if so, what the outcomes were. But they still have a lot to learn.

“There were clear differences with the restrictions across the U.K. over the two time periods," Tomlinson says. "For example, schools reopened, although we cannot be certain they were the cause.”

Research has shown that kids have lower susceptibility to COVID-19 and are less likely to get severely ill if they do catch the virus. However, based on modeling from other respiratory infections highlighted in the study, kids are “are a major driver of transmission during the initial phase of an epidemic, in part owing to a high frequency of social contacts," the researchers write.

Children get more colds a year than adults, many of which are caused by other coronaviruses. This could be protective against the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The Role of Variants Is Unclear

Tomlinson also says that the difference could be related to the presence of one of the variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the B.1.1.7 variant, in the United Kingdom. “In our study, we didn’t have information about genetic variants over the majority of the time period studied, so cannot directly look at this."

Future research, according to Tomlinson, will be able to look at the effect of variant viruses on the relative risk of living with children.

Will Reopening Schools Affect COVID-19 Risk?

Tomlinson says that the researchers will also look more closely at the effect that reopening schools had in the U.K. by comparing data from the time while schools were reopening and after they reopened.

“This will be very useful as we will see whether an association between living with children and contracting SARS-CoV-2 is reduced compared to September to December 2020, when schools were open,” Tomlinson says. “If we find this it would support the idea that transmission within schools increased risk to adults, as opposed to other behaviors associated with having children.”

Like many parents in the U.K. and elsewhere, Tomlinson says that she wants her kids to be able to go back to school. "Our results suggest that there is a small increase in risk associated with living with children, but at least in the U.K., most people at high risk of serious outcomes from SARS-CoV-2 will have been offered vaccination, reducing the risks." 

What This Means For You

If you live with children or teens, your risk of getting COVID-19 might be slightly increased. However, there are plenty of things that your family can do to reduce your risk, such as practicing proper handwashing, wearing face masks when you are around people outside of your home, and social distancing.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Forbes H, Morton CE, Bacon S, et al. Association between living with children and outcomes from covid-19: OpenSAFELY cohort study of 12 million adults in EnglandBMJ. Published online March 18, 2021. doi:10.1136/bmj.n628