Interacting with small kids may lower risk of severe Covid outcomes

Let’s face it: The kids in your life tend to get sick pretty frequently — which means you do, too — and that may have you especially worried this winter as Americans across the country face a “tripledemic” of flu, RSV and Covid-19.

But on the bright side, for parents, guardians and other people who interact with smaller children (and their germs) often, contracting an illness like the common cold could actually help strengthen your immune system against severe outcomes from Covid-19 infection.

That’s according to two studies that were published in August and November of this year, which researched how exposure to younger kids and common colds may impact outcomes for adults after contracting Covid-19.

Exposure to kids may lower your risk of hospitalization from Covid-19

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in August, discovered an association between people who were exposed to young children and lower risk of severe illness from Covid-19.

Scientists involved in the study predict that cross-immunity from previous exposure to more common coronaviruses – that are often found in children and can present as cold-like symptoms – could be providing protection against severe outcomes from Covid-19.

Data of over 3 million adults who sought outpatient care at Kaiser Permanente Northern California was collected and analyzed. And researchers compared the severity of outcomes from Covid-19 for people without children and people with children in three different age ranges: 0-5, 6-11 and 12-18.

While adults with children had higher rates of Covid-19 infection than those without kids, adults without exposure to children had “significantly higher rates of COVID-19 hospitalization and hospitalization requiring ICU admission, compared to those with children aged 0–5,” the study says.

In fact, compared to people with young children, “those without identifiable household exposure to children based on health insurance enrollment had a 27% higher rate of COVID-19 hospitalization and a 49% higher rate of COVID-19 hospitalization requiring ICU admission,” the study found.

Exposure to the common cold can help reduce risk, too

The November study, also published in PNAS, examined the relationship between recent exposure to common-cold coronaviruses and likelihood of being infected by SARS-CoV-2, more commonly referred to as Covid-19.

The findings showed that chances of Veteran Affairs patients contracting Covid-19 decreased by 80% to 90% if they tested positive for any of the common coronaviruses between February 2020 and February 2021.

For context, four coronaviruses can cause the common cold, according to the CDC.

Infection from two of the common-cold coronaviruses were associated with a reduced risk of infection from Covid-19 among the study’s participants, if they developed either common-cold virus within the past year.

This means developing a common cold may shield people from Covid-19 infection, even if for a short period time.

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