Young noses better at blocking COVID-19 variants: researchers
Published: Aug 03, 2022 09:36 PM
Australian researchers believe that they may have found a reason why children generally did much better than adults throughout the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is all to do with their young noses.

A study published in the journal PLOS Biology suggests the lining of nostrils, known as the nasal epithelium, in children has protective qualities which somehow ward off many of the "ancestral" strains of the virus, including Delta but not Omicron, which is now the most prevalent form of the disease.

Microbiologist Dr Kirsty Short from the University of Queensland told the Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday that the findings were made by comparing nasal epithelium cell samples from 23 healthy children aged from 2 to 11 along with 15 healthy adults aged from 19 to 66.

"The data strongly suggest that the nasal epithelium of children is distinct and that it may ­afford children some level of protection from ancestral SARS-CoV-2," Short said.

Although there was a clear difference between the younger and older nasal epithelium cells, Short can still only speculate as to why that may be.

"It is possible that increased antigenic exposure in childhood 'trains' nasal epithelium in children to mount a stronger pro-inflammatory response to any antigenic challenge," she said.

To have a better chance of unlocking the mysteries of the nasal epithelium cells would ideally require a larger sampling of cells, Short said, adding that her team was keen to do such a study, "especially in light of the emergence of the new BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants."

"We have provided the first experimental evidence that the paediatric nasal epithelium may play an important role in reducing the susceptibility of children to SARS-CoV-2," she said.