40% of severe COVID-19 infections at KY Children’s Hospital came in the last 2 weeks

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Forty percent of the children with severe COVID-19 sick enough to seek care at Kentucky Children’s Hospital since the start of the pandemic were admitted in the last two weeks, doctors said Thursday. All were age 12 and older but unvaccinated.

Though UK HealthCare, which operates the children’s hospital, has treated dozens of other coronavirus-positive children in outpatient settings, 10 children have been admitted since March 2020 with severe coronavirus, which means they require supplemental oxygen and drugs such as remdesivir, an anti-viral, and the steroid dexamathasone. Both are also used to treat adults with severe coronavirus infections.

Of those 10 children with severe infections, four were admitted within the last 14 days and two within the last 48 hours.

“As the pandemic has progressed, and especially during this past month when we’ve seen a rise in the Delta variant, we’re starting to see more and more children become infected and also more and more children having complications from [COVID-19],” said Dr. Sean McTigue, medical director for Pediatric Infection Prevention and Control at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

None of the 10 children were vaccinated, though eight were eligible for a vaccine, meaning “this is by and large a fully preventable complication,” Dr. McTigue said, calling the uptick “definitely alarming.”

Since the start of the pandemic, 26 children have been admitted to UK with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), a serious side effect among some children who get infected with coronavirus. Like with adults, children with other complicating health conditions have an amplified risk of developing a severe infection. Obesity in children, for instance, is a “huge driver of increased risk” for severe COVID-19, he said.

Coronavirus hospitalizations among adults are escalating sharply across the country and in Kentucky. On Wednesday, 1,327 people were hospitalized in the commonwealth, up from 234 a month ago. If cases continue doubling each week as they have, state public health officials estimate Kentucky will hit a record number of pandemic hospitalizations in two weeks.

Likewise, the increase in severe infections among children at UK HealthCare tracks with what other hospital systems across the country are reporting. Though the number of children in the hospital with COVID-19 in Kentucky was not immediately available, nationwide, the average number of children hospitalized with coronavirus has grown from 55 the week of June 26 to July 3, to an average of 239 hospitalized August 1 to August 9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Kentucky, the number of children and teenagers under age 18 diagnosed with coronavirus nearly quadrupled last month, jumping from 1,197 new cases in June to 4,165 in July, according to the state Department for Public Health.

It’s important to remember, McTigue said, that the “vast majority of children who become infected with [COVID-19] will either be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic. However, there’s no way to ensure that your child is going to be the one who is asymptomatic as opposed to the one who winds up with severe COVID-19 or potentially MIS-C,” he said.

Roughly 52% of Kentucky’s population is at least partially vaccinated, but immunization rates are the lowest among younger people. As school-age kids return to K-12 classrooms this month, though masks are now mandated for students and teachers in those settings, it will only amplify the possibility of spread, not only of coronavirus but of other respiratory diseases, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

UK HealthCare, like other hospitals nationwide, is seeing an “abnormal spike” in RSV cases, which will only exacerbate available capacity if coronavirus infections in children continue rising, said Dr. Matthew Bacon, interim chief of the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

“Right now we have capacity to [admit] children,” Bacon said. “What worries me a little bit is we’re seeing a very unusual rise in other respiratory diseases this time of year, specifically RSV. Typically that does not spike in the summer.”

Bacon said he’s concerned about what a combined influx of RSV and COVID-19 kids could do to hospital capacity if both continue trending upward. Eventually, “we may not have the capacity, to be honest with you.”

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