Detection of COVID-19 in children in early January 2020 in Wuhan, China


Clinical question: What were the clinical characteristics of children in Wuhan, China hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2?

Dr. Anika Kumar, Cleveland Clinic Children's

Dr. Anika Kumar

Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was recently described by researchers in Wuhan, China.1 However, there has been limited discussion on how the disease has affected children. Based on the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention report, Wu et al. found that 1% of the affected population was less than 10 years, and another 1% of the affected population was 10-19 years.2 However, little information regarding hospitalizations of children with viral infections was previously reported.

Study design: A retrospective analysis of hospitalized children.

Setting: Three sites of a multisite urban teaching hospital in central Wuhan, China.

Synopsis: Over an 8-day period, hospitalized pediatric patients were retrospectively enrolled into this study. The authors defined pediatric patients as those aged 16 years or younger. The patients had one throat swab specimen collected on admission. Throat swab specimens were tested for viral etiologies. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the throat samples were retrospectively tested for SARS-CoV-2. If two independent experiments and a clinically verified diagnostic test confirmed the SARS-CoV-2, the cases were confirmed as COVID-19 cases. During the 8-day period, 366 hospitalized pediatric patients were included in the study. Of the 366 patients, 6 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, while 23 tested positive for influenza A and 20 tested positive for influenza B. The median age of the six patients was 3 years (range, 1-7 years), and all were previously healthy. All six pediatric patients with COVID-19 had high fevers (greater than 39°C), cough, and lymphopenia. Four of the six affected patients had vomiting and leukopenia, while three of the six patients had neutropenia. Four of the six affected patients had pneumonia, as diagnosed on CT scans. Of the six patients, one patient was admitted to the ICU and received intravenous immunoglobulin. The patient admitted to ICU underwent a CT scan which showed “patchy ground-glass opacities in both lungs,” while three of the five children requiring non-ICU hospitalization had chest radiographs showing “patchy shadows in both lungs.” The median length of stay in the hospital was 7.5 days (range, 5-13 days).

Bottom line: COVID-19 causes moderate to severe respiratory illness in pediatric patients with SARS-CoV-2, possibly leading to critical illness. During this time period of the Wuhan COVID-19 outbreak, pediatric patients were more likely to be hospitalized with influenza A or B, than they were with SARS-CoV-2.

Citation: Liu W et al. Detection of Covid-19 in Children in Early January 2020 in Wuhan, China. N Engl J Med. 2020 Mar 12. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2003717.

Dr. Kumar is clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, and a pediatric hospitalist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. She is the pediatric editor of the Hospitalist.


1. Zhu N et al. A novel coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019. N Engl J Med. 2020;382:727-33.

2. Wu Z, McGoogan JM. Characteristics of and important lessons from the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak in China: Summary of a report of 72,314 cases from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. JAMA. 2020 Feb 24 (Epub ahead of print).

From the Hospitalist editors: The pediatrics “In the Literature” series generally focuses on original articles. However, given the urgency to learn more about SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic and the limited literature about hospitalized pediatric patients with the disease, the editors of the Hospitalist thought it was appropriate to share an article reviewing this letter that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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