DENVER (KDVR) — A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is providing insight into which children have a higher risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19.
The national study was published on Feb. 8 and tracked thousands of children for nearly two years. Doctors and researchers found that, overall, children handle the virus well, but there’s a certain group that’s more likely to end up hospitalized.
Children of all ages, races and sizes who were tested for COVID were tracked from March-September 2020, focusing on hospitalizations and who needed intensive care. Sixty-nine health care sites participated in the study.
Dr. Blake Martin, assistant professor in Pediatrics Critical Care Medicine, said he’s both encouraged and surprised by the results.
“How can we predict beforehand which of these kids are going to go on to develop severe disease and be at higher risk for deterioration,” said Martin, who’s tackling that and more with the study.
The study is part of N3C, the National COVID Cohort Collaborative, which collects and contributes clinical data. Martin said researchers are trying to get a better understanding of COVID in children. With this study, nearly 1.1 million children were tracked. Of those involved, just over 167,000 tested positive for COVID and more than 10,000 required hospitalization. He also said the mortality rate is extremely low for children, at .08%.
“Children, who are boys or are teenagers over 12 years old, children who are Black or African American, children who had obesity, and children who had different chronic medical conditions. Those are the kids that are at highest risk of needing ICU therapies or having a poorer outcome once they were hospitalized.”
The study also revealed more about MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome. It’s a rare, but serious complication of COVID that causes the body to become inflamed. Martin said children who develop MIS-C tend to be healthy kids.
“What we found is that kids who developed MIS-C were more likely to be younger, more likely to be obese, more likely to be Black or African American and less likely to have chronic medical conditions,” Martin said.
He added that out of the 10,000 hospitalized children, about 700 developed the syndrome and said those children tended to get sicker. Martin said 16% needed a ventilator and 1 in 4 needed medication.
“While it’s rare, it’s a very dangerous condition,” Martin said. “These are younger kids that are previously healthy that get affected with this overall.”
The study shows boys are nearly 60% more likely to develop MIS-C, Black children are 44% more likely, kids 12 and younger are 81% more likely and obese children have a 76% higher risk.
Nexstar’s KDVR asked Dr. Martin why African American children are at high risk for infection of COVID and MIS-C and he said more research is needed, but it could include multiple factors.
“There’s probably a lot of factors at play. Whether that’s genetics, or environment or socioeconomic factors,” Martin said. “We honestly don’t know and we’re hopeful that our research can light a fire under other researchers to help us figure out why this particular group of children seems to be more severely affected than others.”
To view the full study, click here.
“I really do think we all need to take it upon ourselves to minimize the spread of the virus to protect these children who are the most vulnerable,” Martin said.
Now that it’s published, Dr. Martin says the research continues, but it’s about putting the information they’ve learned into practice. He’s hoping an electronic tool will be developed to alert doctors of high-risk children soon.