CDC Confirms COVID-19 is Less Severe in Pediatric Patients

Child with Fever

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that in the majority of juveniles infected with COVID-19, the symptoms are less severe than in adult patients.

The report, Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Children – United States, Feb. 12-April 2, shows that fewer children with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, are hospitalized. Additionally, the report shows that children with the disease are less likely than adults to experience fever, cough or shortness of breath. However, the report is quick to point out that some pediatric patients, those under the age of 18, can become seriously ill and require hospitalization. At the time the report was released Monday, there had been three juveniles in the United States who died from COVID-19.

The CDC findings were based on an analysis of 2,572 known juvenile cases of COVID-19 that were part of a batch of 149,760 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases, the CDC said. The median age of pediatric patients in the study was 11 years old. The data from the CDC analysis confirms what had originally been reported from China when the outbreak of COVID-19 began. In China, data suggested that pediatric COVID-19 cases might be less severe than adult cases and that children might experience different symptoms than adults.

In its analysis, the CDC said 73% of pediatric patients had symptoms of fever, cough or shortness of breath compared with 93% of adults aged 18–64 years during the same period. When looking at the symptoms individually, 56% of pediatric patients reported fever, 54% reported cough and 13% reported shortness of breath, the CDC said.

The data used included different variables, including hospitalization status, underlying conditions and overall disease symptoms. But, some of the information that was available for these variables was low. For the symptoms, the researchers only had data for about 10% of the 2,572 patients and only knew about underlying conditions in 13% of them. Underlying conditions included asthma, immunosuppression and cardiovascular disease. The researchers also only had hospitalization information for about one-third, 33%, of the pediatric patients.

But, what those hospitalization rates showed is that juveniles were hospitalized less than adults. According to the analysis, 5.7% of all pediatric patients, or 20% of those for whom hospitalization status was known, were hospitalized, the CDC said. That was lower than the rates for adults. The data shows that adult patients aged 18 to 64 were hospitalized 33% of the time. Children under the age of 1 year accounted for the highest percentage of hospitalization among pediatric patients with COVID-19. Those youngest patients represented 15% to 62% of all children and pediatric patients hospitalized, the CDC said. 

“These data support previous findings that children with COVID-19 might not have reported fever or cough as often as do adults. Whereas most COVID-19 cases in children are not severe, serious COVID-19 illness resulting in hospitalization still occurs in this age group,” the CDC said.

While pediatric patients may have less severe symptoms of the disease, the CDC said social distancing recommendations and other preventative measures are critically important to slow the spread of the disease.

Among the 2,572 pediatric cases used for the research, 850 (33%) were from New York City where the outbreak has been severe; 584 (23%) were from the rest of New York state; 393 (15%) were from New Jersey, and the remaining 745 (29%) were from other states and U.S. territories.

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