The National Institutes of Health (NIH) began enrolling participants in a new study to determine the rate of coronavirus infection in children and their family members. The Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2 (HEROS) study seeks to determine the percentage of children infected with the virus who develop symptoms and examine whether infection rates differ between children who have asthma or other allergies and those who do not. The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is sponsoring the study.
The HEROS study will enroll 6,000 people from 2,000 families across 11 cities, including children with and without asthma or other allergic conditions. Enrollees must already be participating in NIH-funded pediatric research. Researchers will monitor these children and their families for 6 months to determine who gets infected with the coronavirus and whether the virus is transmitted to other family members.
All parts of the study will be conducted remotely, with participants mailing in nasal swabs every 2 weeks for analysis, as well as filling out questionnaires about any symptoms, social distancing practices, recent activities outside the home, and any exposure to people who are sick. In the case of a suspected infection, the participants’ caregivers will collect blood samples to test for antibodies.
Along with screening for COVID-19, researchers will also assess gene expression in the nasal swab samples to look for any patterns that correlate with higher or lower risk of infection. Preliminary evidence from another NIAID study that examined airway-surface cells for the expression of ACE2, the gene that codes for the receptor that the coronavirus uses to infect cells, found that in both children and adults, respiratory allergy, asthma, and controlled allergen exposure were associated with reduced ACE2 expression. The lowest rates occurred in patients with high levels of both asthma and sensitivity to allergens. The HEROS study seeks to clarify whether reduced ACE2 gene expression in children with allergic conditions also correlates with a lower rate of COVID-19 infection.