CALGARY -- University of Calgary researchers studying the genes and immune responses of children with COVID-19 say they have a huge opportunity in Alberta because of the relatively high number of confirmed cases.

“As a result of the extensive testing and contact tracing that’s been done we’ve identified, on population basis, far more children who have COVID-19 infections in Alberta than anywhere else in Canada,” said Dr. Jim Kellner, MD, a professor of Paediatrics at the University of Calgary and paediatric infectious disease physician.

He said the number of young Albertans who have had the virus is also reporting at a higher rate than many other places around the globe.

“Around the world most groups that have looked at COVID have found that somewhere between one and five per cent of all the cases occur in children.”

“Here in Alberta 13 per cent of all the persons who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are children and adolescents.”

As of May 26, Alberta reported 924 cases of the virus in people 19 years old and younger.

Alberta Government

Dr. Kellner said most cases were not severe: only eight children were hospitalized and all of those patients have since recovered.

The virus seems to appear differently in children than adults.

In many cases across Canada and around the world doctors are finding clusters of a rare inflammatory condition in children that could be linked to COVID-19.

Dr. Kellner said Calgary has seen some cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a condition that causes rashes and in severe cases can lead to heart damage, similar to Kawasaki disease.

He said it’s too early to tell if the recent number of MISC-C cases fit in the normal ebb and flow they see or if the number of cases becomes proportionally higher for the region.

COVID-19 in kids

Understanding a possible link between this condition and the virus would be part of the research, as would looking at children’s genetic makeup to determine risk factors for severe responses and gain insight into targeted treatments.

“We need to see not only how well children do who have actually had an infection make an immune response ... but how long lasting is that?”

The team hopes understanding how children’s bodies respond to COVID-19 may also shed light on ways to help adults.

Dr. Kellner said they will be reaching out to Alberta families, and hopes to have about 600 children participate in the study.

“We’re very much hoping families and children are going to be willing to participate on the basis of the being able to contribute to greater good of understanding this.”

“In Alberta we have this amazing opportunity and I believe a duty to do what we can to understand COVID-19 better.”

The UCalgary study is a collaboration between the University of Alberta, Alberta Health Services (AHS), the Alberta Children’s Hospital and Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL).