Longitudinal Household Assessment of Respiratory Illness in Children and Parents During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Marieke L.A. de Hoog, Judith G.C. Sluiter-Post, Ilse Westerhof, Elandri Fourie, Valerie D. Heuvelman, Trisja T. Boom, Sjoerd M. Euser, Paul Badoux, Chantal Reusken, Louis J. Bont, Elisabeth A.M. Sanders, Vincent W.V. Jaddoe, Bjorn L. Herpers, Dirk Eggink, Joanne G. Wildenbeest, Liesbeth Duijts, Marlies A. van Houten, Patricia C.J.L. Bruijning-Verhagen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Downloads (Pure)


IMPORTANCE: In the early COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 testing was only accessible and recommended for symptomatic persons or adults. This restriction hampered assessment of the true incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children as well as detailed characterization of the SARS-CoV-2 disease spectrum and how this spectrum compared with that of other common respiratory illnesses.

OBJECTIVE: To estimate the community incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in children and parents and to assess the symptoms and symptom severity of respiratory illness episodes involving SARS-CoV-2-positive test results relative to those with SARS-CoV-2-negative test results.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This cohort study randomly selected Dutch households with at least 1 child younger than 18 years. A total of 1209 children and adults from 307 households were prospectively followed up between August 25, 2020, and July 29, 2021, covering the second and third waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participation included SARS-CoV-2 screening at 4- to 6-week intervals during the first 23 weeks of participation (core study period; August 25, 2020, to July 29, 2021). Participants in all households finishing the core study before July 1, 2021, were invited to participate in the extended follow-up and to actively report respiratory symptoms using an interactive app until July 1, 2021. At new onset of respiratory symptoms or a SARS-CoV-2 positive test result, a household outbreak study was initiated, which included daily symptom recording, repeated polymerase chain reaction testing (nose-throat swabs and saliva and fecal samples), and SARS-CoV-2 antibody measurement (paired dried blood spots) in all household members. Outbreaks, households, and episodes of respiratory illness were described as positive or negative depending on SARS-CoV-2 test results. Data on participant race and ethnicity were not reported because they were not uniformly collected in the original cohorts and were therefore not representative or informative.

EXPOSURES: SARS-CoV-2-positive and SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Age-stratified incidence rates, symptoms, and symptom severity for SARS-CoV-2-positive and SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes.

RESULTS: Among 307 households including 1209 participants (638 female [52.8%]; 403 [33.3%] aged <12 years, 179 [14.8%] aged 12-17 years, and 627 [51.9%] aged ≥18 years), 183 household outbreaks of respiratory illness were observed during the core study and extended follow-up period, of which 63 (34.4%) were SARS-CoV-2 positive (59 outbreaks [32.2%] during the core study and 4 outbreaks [2.2%] during follow-up). SARS-CoV-2 incidence was similar across all ages (0.24/person-year [PY]; 95% CI, 0.21-0.28/PY). Overall, 33 of 134 confirmed SARS-CoV-2 episodes (24.6%) were asymptomatic. The incidence of SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes was highest in children younger than 12 years (0.94/PY; 95% CI, 0.89-0.97/PY). When comparing SARS-CoV-2-positive vs SARS-CoV-2-negative respiratory illness episodes in children younger than 12 years, no differences were observed in number of symptoms (median [IQR], 2 [2-4] for both groups), symptom severity (median [IQR] maximum symptom severity score, 6 [4-9] vs 7 [6-13]), or symptom duration (median [IQR], 6 [5-12] days vs 8 [4-13] days). However, among adults, SARS-CoV-2-positive episodes had a significantly higher number (median [IQR], 6 [4-8] vs 3 [2-4]), severity (median [IQR] maximum symptom severity score, 15 [9-19] vs 7 [6-11]), and duration (median [IQR] 13 [8-29] days vs 5 [3-11] days; P < .001 for all comparisons) of symptoms vs SARS-CoV-2-negative episodes.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: In this cohort study, during the first pandemic year when mostly partial or full in-person learning occurred, the SARS-CoV-2 incidence rate in children was substantially higher than estimated from routine testing or seroprevalence data and was similar to that of adult household members. Unlike in unvaccinated adults, SARS-CoV-2 symptoms and symptom severity in children were similar to other common respiratory illnesses. These findings may prove useful when developing pediatric COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2237522
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2022


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19 Testing
  • COVID-19 Vaccines
  • COVID-19/diagnosis
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Parents
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Longitudinal Household Assessment of Respiratory Illness in Children and Parents During the COVID-19 Pandemic'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this