From the Journals

Obesity, hypoxia predict severity in children with COVID-19



Obesity and hypoxia at the time of hospital admission predicted more severe disease in children diagnosed with COVID-19, based on data from 281 patients at 8 locations.

Manifestations of COVID-19 in children include respiratory disease similar to that seen in adults, but the full spectrum of disease in children has been studied mainly in single settings or with a focus on one clinical manifestation, wrote Danielle M. Fernandes, MD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, and colleagues.

In a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, the researchers identified 281 children hospitalized with COVID-19 and/or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) at 8 sites in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York. A total of 143 (51%) had respiratory disease, 69 (25%) had MIS-C, and 69 (25%) had other manifestations of illness including 32 patients with gastrointestinal problems, 21 infants with fever, 6 cases of neurologic disease, 6 cases of diabetic ketoacidosis, and 4 patients with other indications. The median age of the patients was 10 years, 60% were male, 51% were Hispanic, and 23% were non-Hispanic Black. The most common comorbidities were obesity (34%) and asthma (14%).

Independent predictors of disease severity in children found

After controlling for multiple variables, obesity and hypoxia at hospital admission were significant independent predictors of severe respiratory disease, with odds ratios of 3.39 and 4.01, respectively. In addition, lower absolute lymphocyte count (OR, 8.33 per unit decrease in 109 cells/L) and higher C-reactive protein (OR, 1.06 per unit increase in mg/dL) were significantly predictive of severe MIS-C (P = .001 and P = .017, respectively).

“The association between weight and severe respiratory COVID-19 is consistent with the adult literature; however, the mechanisms of this association require further study,” Dr. Fernandes and associates noted.

Overall, children with MIS-C were significantly more likely to be non-Hispanic Black, compared with children with respiratory disease, an 18% difference. However, neither race/ethnicity nor socioeconomic status were significant predictors of disease severity, the researchers wrote.

During the study period, 7 patients (2%) died and 114 (41%) were admitted to the ICU.

“We found a wide array of clinical manifestations in children and youth hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2,” Dr. Fernandes and associates wrote. Notably, gastrointestinal symptoms, ocular symptoms, and dermatologic symptoms have rarely been noted in adults with COVID-19, but occurred in more than 30% of the pediatric patients.

“We also found that SARS-CoV-2 can be an incidental finding in a substantial number of hospitalized pediatric patients,” the researchers said.

The findings were limited by several factors including a population of patients only from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, and the possibility that decisions on hospital and ICU admission may have varied by location, the researchers said. In addition, approaches may have varied in the absence of data on the optimal treatment of MIS-C.

“This study builds on the growing body of evidence showing that mortality in hospitalized pediatric patients is low, compared with adults,” Dr. Fernandes and associates said. “However, it highlights that the young population is not universally spared from morbidity, and that even previously healthy children and youth can develop severe disease requiring supportive therapy.”

Findings confirm other clinical experience

The study was important to show that, “although most children are spared severe illness from COVID-19, some children are hospitalized both with acute COVID-19 respiratory disease, with MIS-C and with a range of other complications,” Adrienne Randolph, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, said in an interview.

Dr. Randolph said she was not surprised by the study findings, “as we are also seeing these types of complications at Boston Children’s Hospital where I work.”

Additional research is needed on the outcomes of these patients, “especially the longer-term sequelae of having COVID-19 or MIS-C early in life,” she emphasized.

The take-home message to clinicians from the findings at this time is to be aware that children and adolescents can become severely ill from COVID-19–related complications, said Dr. Randolph. “Some of the laboratory values on presentation appear to be associated with disease severity.”

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Dr. Randolph disclosed funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lead the Overcoming COVID-19 Study in U.S. Children and Adults.

SOURCE: Fernandes DM et al. J Pediatr. 2020 Nov 13. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2020.11.016.

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