Background: Nucleocapsid antigenemia in adults has demonstrated high sensitivity and specificity for acute infection, and antigen burden is associated with disease severity. Data regarding SARS-CoV-2 antigenemia in children are limited.
Methods: We retrospectively analyzed blood plasma specimens from hospitalized children with COVID-19 or MIS-C. Nucleocapsid and spike were measured using ultrasensitive immunoassays.
Results: We detected nucleocapsid antigenemia in 62% (50/81) and spike antigenemia in 27% (21/79) of children with acute COVID-19 but 0% (0/26) and 15% (4/26) with MIS-C from March 2020-March 2021. Higher nucleocapsid levels were associated with radiographic infiltrates and respiratory symptoms in children with COVID-19.
Conclusions: Antigenemia lacks the sensitivity to diagnose acute infection in children but is associated with signs and symptoms of lower respiratory tract involvement. Further study into the mechanism of antigenemia, its association with specific organ involvement, and the role of antigenemia in the pathogenesis of COVID-19 is warranted.
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