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Science and Research

Severe COVID-19 Illness Less Common in Children

But Not All Children Are Immune

This article has been modified from the original, which appeared in the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine News Center.

As COVID-19 began its spread across the globe, clinicians and scientists started recognizing patterns: high mortality for the elderly and those with certain pre-existing conditions, and low incidence of severe COVID-19 illness in children. Studies in both Wuhan, China, and the United States have shown that less than 2% of patients with COVID-19 were children. An even smaller portion of this group required critical care in an intensive care unit (ICU) because of the virus.

A new study out of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, published in JAMA Pediatrics, helps clarify the true risk to children impacted by COVID-19.

“This study demonstrated that while the prevalence of illness and severe disease in pediatrics is lower than in adults, pediatric patients are absolutely not protected against this disease,” says study co-author Katie Wolfe, MD, instructor of Pediatrics in the Division of Critical Care at Feinberg School of Medicine and an attending physician in Critical Care at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “We found that children, especially those with comorbidities, were still at risk for severe disease and multi-organ system dysfunction.”

The study showed that 83% of children with COVID-19 admitted to ICUs across North America had significant co-morbidities, such as diabetes, asthma and obesity. While children with COVID-19 experience severe illness less frequently than adults, the disease can still inflict a significant toll. For example, the pediatric community is currently investigating the connection between multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and exposure to COVID-19.

“I hope that we can learn from this process to continue to share information that can positively impact outcomes of children,” says Dr. Wolfe. “We need to remain vigilant in caring for all critically ill children as we aim to better understand this virus.”