Covid less severe in children, teenagers: UK study

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August 28, 2020 7:41 PM

The team, including researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Imperial College London, recruited 651 children and young people aged 19 years or less who had been admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

The findings, which are published on Friday in the ‘British Medical Journal’, also identify new symptoms of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) a rare condition thought to be linked to COVID-19.

Children and teenagers are less likely than adults to develop severe COVID-19 or die from the disease, according to a new UK study, dubbed the world’s largest study of hospital patients with COVID-19. However, the report did find that obesity, Black ethnicity and being under one month old increased the risk of a child being admitted into intensive care if infected with the coronavirus.

“There have been no deaths in otherwise healthy school age children,” said study author Calum Semple, Professor in Child Health and Outbreak Medicine and Consultant Respiratory Paediatrician at the University of Liverpool.

The team, including researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Imperial College London, recruited 651 children and young people aged 19 years or less who had been admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

Their report finds that it is rare for young people to end up in hospital with COVID-19, with children and young people making up less than 1 per cent of participants. The number of children and young people who died from COVID-19 was very low six in total when compared with approximately 18,000 adult deaths in the same period.
Three children who died were new-born babies born with other severe health problems and the other three children were aged 15 to 18 years old and also had profound health issues.

Researchers often want to call attention to large numbers of patients in their studies, however, we want to highlight that children made up only a fraction of a percent of all COVID-19 admissions across the UK in our study and that severe disease was rare, said Dr Olivia Swann, lead author and Clinical Lecturer in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh.

The study, led by the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium (ISARIC) a global collaboration working to prevent death from outbreaks of severe respiratory and emerging infections, involved 138 hospitals across England, Wales and Scotland and included two thirds of all people admitted to hospital with the disease.

Its findings come as the UK government has been keen to reassure parents and teachers about children resuming classroom studies at the end of the summer holiday period this month after a lengthy lockdown period, during which most schools remained closed.

“Parents should be reassured by this study which confirms very few children were seriously affected by COVID-19. As children return to school, and over the winter months, it is important we continue to monitor COVID-19 in children,” said Dr Louisa Pollock, Consultant in Paediatric Infectious Disease at the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow.

The findings, which are published on Friday in the ‘British Medical Journal’, also identify new symptoms of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) a rare condition thought to be linked to COVID-19.

The symptoms usually seen in those with MIS-C include conjunctivitis, a rash, gastrointestinal problem such as abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. The study found new COVID-19 symptoms in children with MIS-C, such as headaches, tiredness, muscle aches and a sore throat.

The study identified 52 patients who had MIS-C and found that these children were five times more likely to be admitted to critical care. The researchers are now calling for the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of MIS-C to be updated to help doctors identify more children with the condition and improve their treatment.

“We have provided new understanding about MIS-C which will help manage this rare but serious condition, but parents can now be reassured that severe COVID-19 is very rare in children,” said Semple.

This research was funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) as part of the UK government’s COVID-19 Rapid Research Response.

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