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The new variant of Omicron fills children’s hospitals

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“I think we’ll see more numbers now than we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Stanley Spinner, who is medical director and vice president of Texas Children’s Pediatrics & Urgent Care in Houston, told CNN.

“Cases continue to rise between Christmas meetings and we will continue to see more numbers this week after that,” Spinner said in a telephone interview.

“We will now have the New Year upon us this coming weekend, with more people gathering, more exhibitions and then those numbers will continue to rise,” he added.

More children in hospitals

Across the country, pediatricians are gearing up for a busy January.

“It’s almost like you can see the train coming down the track and just wait for it to get off the rails,” Dr. Claudia Hoyen, director of pediatric infection control at UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, told CNN. . .

“It’s going to be a very interesting couple of weeks. We just had all these kids mingling with everyone else over Christmas. We have one more holiday to spend with the New Year, and then we’re going to send everyone back to school. “Hoyen said.

“Everyone is waiting at the limit, wondering what we’ll end up seeing.”

And while the Delta variant infected more children than the previous variants, Omicron looks even worse, Spinner said.

“What worries the (pediatric) side is that, unlike adults, where they report the number of infected adults, a relatively low number of hospitalized, what we’re really seeing, we think, is a growing number of children. hospitalized, “Spinner said.

“This is a concern for us, especially those who cannot be vaccinated under the age of 5 or those who are not fully vaccinated or unvaccinated at all who are eligible for more than 5 years. Therefore, it is a major concern. “.

While Spinner sees little evidence that the Omicron variant is causing more serious illness in children than previous variants, he also sees no evidence that it is milder.

“We do our best to keep a child out of the hospital. So if they’re hospitalized, that means they’re already pretty sick,” Spinner said.

“They need oxygen. They need more care. Although they are really dehydrated and need IV fluids, most of these children that we admit to Covid are children who have breathing problems, they need oxygen and they need other support. “You know, you don’t see kids who aren’t very sick in the hospital.”

Most really sick children are not vaccinated or unvaccinated, he said. “I can tell you that virtually all of our children who are hospitalized have not been vaccinated or have not been fully vaccinated, they may have received a dose but have not had a second dose and do not have full protection from the vaccine,” he said. Spinner.

The virus finds a new niche: children

Children are an easy target for the virus, Dr. Juan Salazar, chief physician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, told CNN.

“It’s affecting larger communities, and it’s certainly affecting children in a way we haven’t seen before. And that’s new compared to last year.” He said. Salazar estimates that only one-third of eligible children, ages 5 and up, are vaccinated in Connecticut.

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“That’s why the virus has found a niche. At least here in Connecticut, it seems to have shifted where it is going,” he added. He said younger children who have not yet been vaccinated, or older children who have not yet been vaccinated or fully vaccinated, are becoming infected.

“Perhaps it is more widespread now that we have liberalized our gatherings. Perhaps some of the masks have been removed, families are tired. They are unwilling to submit to some of the strict isolation policies of a year ago,” Salazar said. added.

“And that has allowed these new variants to spread more widely. And that’s why it’s affecting children who are currently the most at-risk population because they’re not vaccinated, or many of them aren’t.”

Mild infections for some children, but not all

The children appear to be slightly ill, mostly in New Jersey, said Dr. Jennifer Owensby of the pediatric critical care division at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in Covid-positive children, but they don’t necessarily show up with Covid symptoms,” Owensby said. He said the children will come for another treatment and are testing positive when examined.

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That same effect is increasing the number of cases in Washington, DC, said Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, head of infectious diseases at National Children’s Hospital. About half of the Covid-19 tests are done there.

And the affected children are no sicker than when previous variants were circulating. But there are definitely more children with symptoms than before, he said.

“We just saw a staggering increase in both volumes: the number of positive tests and the percentage of positive tests,” DeBiasi told CNN in a telephone interview. “We have had almost half of the tests – 48% of the tests – to be positive and this is much, much higher than in previous waves where it was more than the order of 17% at most. And if we look at the gross positive numbers, in the last wave, we were impressed by 80 positives a day and we had almost 200 positives a few days. So it’s very, very, very contagious. “

These tests include children entering with and without symptoms, community screening, and random screening of patients coming for other types of treatment, as well as staff tests, DeBiasi said.

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“If we look at the hospital admissions, that has also been more,” he added. “So in previous waves we would have at the peak of those waves, we would get about 18 kids to the hospital.” Now, some days, up to 18 children are hospitalized, with up to 30 in the hospital at a time, he said.

In New York City, state health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said admissions to the pediatric hospital for Covid-19 have nearly doubled since Dec. 11. In the week ending Dec. 11, 22 children were admitted to New York City hospitals, he said. . Last week, 109 children were admitted as of December 23.

Across the state during the same period, there was a two-and-a-half-fold increase from 70 admissions to 184.

Children of all ages are vulnerable

Children are affected at all ages, from babies to teenagers, pediatricians agreed.

“We’re seeing pretty much every age group. We’re watching babies up to older teens. It’s definitely general,” Owensby said.

Owensby is concerned about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

“We can see it as early as two to three weeks,” he said, but most cases start turning eight to ten weeks after the children are infected.

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MIS-C is marked by inflammation of the heart and other organs and is usually seen in children who were not very ill with Covid-19.

“The vast majority are asymptomatic,” Owensby said. “The scary part was that before that they were totally normal kids. They didn’t have any underlying disease. They were perfectly healthy kids who presented with heart failure and shock.”

He CDC reports 5,973 MIS-C cases so far, and 52 children have died as a result.

“You may even have mild symptoms: runny nose, mild cough, or even fever, just like any other respiratory virus,” Owensby said. “You have to watch for symptoms: exhaustion, inability to play,” he added.

Symptoms may be subtle, but MIS-C is severe.

“That’s what happens to children. They’re fine until they’re not. Then all of a sudden they’re seriously ill,” Owensby said.

DeBiasi said he has yet to see any signs of an increase in MIS-C cases. “We haven’t seen any increase in MIS-C, but we wouldn’t have expected it. It will take four to six weeks after any new variant increase,” he said.

Parents should watch their children and be careful to protect them, Owensby advised.

“Return to due diligence. Monitor the social distancing of your children,” he advised. They should wear masks when appropriate, for example, when they are indoors with other unrelated people.

“Masks don’t hurt children,” Owensby said. Younger kids can have fun with masks and playing superheroes, he said.

“The whole family should be vaccinated if they can,” he added. Vaccinated parents and siblings can protect younger, unvaccinated children.

Correction: This story has been corrected to clarify the number of one-day admissions at Washington, DC Children’s Hospital

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