Parents of schoolchildren do not face a greater risk of being admitted to hospital or dying of the coronavirus, research has found.
In fact, working-age adults with children 11 years old or under may actually be 25 per cent less likely to die if they catch coronavirus.
The researchers said this was almost entirely because those with young children live healthier lives — they were also less likely to die of non-Covid causes.
The study of 12million people, carried out during Britain’s first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, puts to rest one of the key fears about keeping schools open.
Those with children aged 12 to 18 years had a marginal increased risk of catching the virus — 8 per cent higher than those without children. In comparison, the figure was just 3 per cent of children under 11.
But academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Oxford University found that did not translate into an greater risk of hospitalisation or death from coronavirus.
Adults living with children aged between 0 and 11 are 25 per cent less likely to die from Covid-19. The scientists suggested this is because they lead healthier lifestyles (stock)
And for adults over the age of 65 living with children there was no increased risk of infection or death — no matter how old the children.
This suggested that multigenerational households, in which grandparents live in the same homes as youngsters, do not put the elderly at risk.
But is was not clear whether school’s had an impact because the data was collected between February and August this year, when many schools were shut.
Professor Liam Smeeth, an epidemiologist at LSHTM, said: ‘If we can keep schools open it is a really important thing for this generation of young people.
‘But we have to look at possible risks. The take home message is there is no evidence of harmful effect of living with kids of school age.’
He added: ‘This is only one aspect that policy makers have to consider.
‘Kids and teenagers may spread the virus more widely in the community, which we weren’t able to study. Nor did we look at the safety of staff in school.’
This graph shows the risks of death from Covid-19 depending how old the children an adult aged 65 and under lives with
WHAT WERE THE MAIN POINTS IN THE STUDY?
- Parents with young children are less likely to die from Covid-19
The study looked at the health records of 12million adults in England aged under 65.
They found those with children aged 0 to 11 were 25 per cent less likely to die from coronavirus and 32 per cent less likely to die from other causes.
- Other human coronaviruses offer little protection from SARS-CoV-19
The scientists checked whether other human coronaviruses could offer protection against Covid-19, but failed to identify any.
- Those with children aged 12 to 18 were more likely to catch the virus
Adults under 65 in this group were eight per cent more likely to catch Covid-19, but no more likely to die from it.
The study ran between February and August, enabling the researchers to compare infection rates before schools closed in March and after lockdown was imposed.
Professor Smeeth acknowledged that does not include rates after schools reopened in September.
But he said he was ‘confident’ that further data is unlikely to change the researchers’ conclusions.
Dr Ben Goldacre, director of DataLab in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at University of Oxford, said: ‘Our analysis looks at the period when the society was largely open, and then compares that with the period when schools and society were largely closed down.
‘During November and December, it may be that we’ll have a period of society being largely closed down, but schools remain open.
‘If that’s the case, then as this data becomes available, we will rerun our analysis to see if anything is different.’
Previous studies have suggested that older children — particularly teenagers in later secondary school and in sixth form — have high rates of ‘viral shedding’, suggesting they may put others’ at risk.
But the researchers said the science is far from proven.
The scientists also examined whether children passing on colds caused by four other human coronaviruses could provide protection against Covid-19.
But their results suggested that any immunity from these infections against the virus was unlikely.
Professor Stephen Evans, of the LSHTM, said: ‘We are still left with a puzzle as to why children do have low risk of Covid-19.’
The new study, which has been published on the Medrxiv website, has not yet been peer reviewed.
The findings come after another recent study involving 300,000 Scottish healthcare workers and their households indicated that sharing a household with school-aged children does not place the adults with whom they live at greater risk of Covid-19.
Dr David McAllister of Glasgow, who led that study, said: ‘Notwithstanding causation, a more straightforward conclusion can be drawn from both this study and our own, namely sharing a household with school-aged children does not place the adults with whom they live at greater risk.
‘This observation has crucial implications as societies seek to minimise the harms from Covid-19, while also minimising the indirect harms caused by preventative measures, especially where these harms affect children.’