A recent study found that although most children admitted to pediatric intensive care units (ICUs) for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) had underlying conditions, all children, teens, and young adults are at a greater risk for severe complications than researchers had previously believed.

The study, conducted by investigators at Rutgers University, is the first to describe the characteristics of seriously ill pediatric patients with COVID-19 in North America.

The researchers studied 48 children and young adults from newborns up to age 21 who were all admitted to pediatric ICUs in the United States and Canada for COVID-19 in March and April 2020. More than 80% of these patients had chronic underlying conditions, such as immune suppression, obesity, diabetes, seizures, or chronic lung disease. Of those with underlying conditions, 40% depended on technological support due to developmental delays or genetic anomalies.

Following admission, more than 20% of the children experienced failure of 2 or more organ systems due to COVID-19, and nearly 40% required a breathing tube and ventilation. At the end of the follow-up period, nearly one-third of the children were still hospitalized and 3 still required ventilator support. One child was on life support and 2 had died.

“The idea that COVID-19 is sparing of young people is just false,” said coauthor Lawrence C. Kleinman, MD, MPH, in a statement. “While children are more likely to get very sick if they have other chronic conditions, including obesity, it is important to note that children without chronic illness are also at risk.”

According to a press release, the investigators were “cautiously encouraged” by hospital outcomes in the study, citing a 4.2% mortality rate for pediatric ICU patients compared with mortality rates of up to 62% for adults in ICUs. They also found lower incidences of respiratory failure among children compared with adults.

The new release added that the investigators are continuing to collaborate with other researchers to learn more about COVID-19 complications in children, including the apparent COVID-related syndrome being found in children.

“Parents need to continue to take the virus seriously,” Kleinman concluded.

REFERENCE
Children Face Risk for Severe Complications and Death from COVID-19 [news release]. Rutgers University; May 11, 2020. https://www.rutgers.edu/news/children-face-risk-severe-complications-and-death-covid-19. Accessed May 21, 2020.