COVID-19 surges among American children. Here’s what Canadian parents need to know
The consequences are already being felt in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas, where a growing number of children are testing positive for COVID-19. While children are generally more resistant to the virus than older populations, some still end up in the hospital and, in some cases, on a ventilator.
But children who catch COVID-19 are “not little adults,” as pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr Nisha Thampi said in an interview with Global News. Due to the main differences between their bodies and their lifestyles, COVID-19 can be a different beast for children.
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When children enter a hospital with COVID-19 issues, they often have few or no symptoms. Even as the more transmissible Delta variant spreads, doctors sometimes only discover a child with COVID-19 after they’ve already been admitted to hospital for some totally unrelated reason.
“All children admitted to the hospital with a positive COVID swab are not admitted because of COVID,” Thampi said.
“They could be admitted because they were in a motor vehicle collision and then they tested positive for COVID. “
COVID-19 and children
Experts aren’t sure why children are better at fighting COVID-19, but an early study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation hints at possible reasons. This suggests that their bodies may be better able to send the signal needed to trigger an immune response.
It could also be more difficult for the coronavirus to enter the cells of children’s airways, an immunologist from Duke University told The Atlantic in a recent interview.
Yet despite the trend for milder COVID-19 symptoms in children, increased spread is also leading to an increase in cases of rare severe outcomes, doctors say.
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The United States already faces this reality. As COVID-19 spreads in states with lower vaccination rates and lax masking and distancing policies, cases in children are increasing, according to a joint report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.
As of August 5, more than 14% of total COVID-19 cases in the United States were in children. Still, children made up only 1.5% to 3.5% of hospitalizations in the 23 states that record these numbers.
On top of that, seven states have not reported any child deaths from COVID-19 – and in states where child deaths from COVID-19 have been reported, this worst-case scenario has only occurred in 0.03% of cases.
In Canada, the population under the age of 19 has experienced the most COVID-19 infections to date. More than 19 percent of the total cases in Canada have occurred in people under the age of 19, according to Health Canada.
Experts fear this figure will continue to climb.
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“I cannot say that the Delta variant will cause more serious illness than other COVID infections in children,” said Dr. Jesse Papenburg, pediatric infectious disease specialist at McGill University.
“But the problem here is that because you’re going to have more cases, because it’s a more transmissible virus, you’re going to end up seeing the tip of the iceberg – the more severe cases – happen more frequently. “
How is COVID-19 treated in children?
Typically, the same methods used to fight COVID-19 in adults also work for children, according to Thampi. But treating children requires knowledge, skills, and sometimes smaller tools.
If Delta causes a surge in COVID-19 cases, the health system’s ability to provide children with the best possible care could become an issue.
“It’s a set of highly trained nurses who are in the neonatal intensive care unit, in the pediatric intensive care setting, in oncology and in the general inpatient unit,” Thampi said.
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Children also don’t make their own decisions and need a parent or guardian, which can present its own issues.
Parents and guardians make health care decisions, such as whether a teenager can get vaccinated or how well a child should follow restrictions, on behalf of their children, Thampi said.
On top of that, children need a caregiver by their side in the hospital. This means that hospitals are not just taking into account the risk of a child being admitted to hospital with COVID. They also need to think about parents, Thampi said.
“We have relatives in the hospital, (and) they are not visitors. They are essential caregivers for their children in hospitals, so when we have an admission for a child, even if not for COVID, we always think of COVID, ”Thampi said.
“There are other children who are in the hospital with them, who share their rooms or who are in other public spaces of the hospital. “
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Hospitals are particularly concerned about the potential increase in other respiratory illnesses as society begins to open up. In the UK, hospitals have seen an increase in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – a common virus that affects the lungs and airways, and is often most serious in babies. States like Texas are facing a similar wave of RSVs.
Now Canada is preparing for its own wave of respiratory illnesses.
“I think the only thing we’ve learned from COVID-19, at the very least… there’s no exception,” Thampi said.
“If we see things happening in other contexts. We would do well to learn from them and try to get ahead of these situations.
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Doctors are concerned about the effect these common seasonal viruses could have as more children contract COVID-19 – a disease that also strikes the respiratory system.
“What we are still learning is the impact of co-circulating viruses: whether they have an impact on children’s ability to manage their COVID-19 infection, or on their susceptibility to COVID-19 infections. ″ Thampi said.
Fortunately, there are a number of tools available to parents and society that they can deploy to keep their children safe, even in light of the Delta variants.
The same public health measures that help protect adults from the virus can also make children safer, including in schools.
“It’s the combination of different interventions that can actually reduce transmission in schools at basically the same level of risk as anyone else in the community,” Papenburg said.
“So whether it’s wearing masks, regrouping, improving ventilation, social distancing – especially at mealtimes – all of these things together help make schools a safe place, even for children too young to be vaccinated. “
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Parents can also choose to continue to meet friends outside, distance themselves and mask themselves – even if the restrictions are lifted and they are fully immunized, Thampi said.
That’s because, as the CDC warned, fully vaccinated people infected with Delta carry an equally high viral load as unvaccinated people.
“High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and have raised concerns that, unlike other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta could transmit the virus,” the CDC wrote in a statement in late July.
This means that, for Thampi, protecting children means holding out a little longer.
“Until we have a better understanding of what the Delta variant means in children, I’m more cautious and would like to see a more cautious approach to August at a societal level,” she said.
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