May 11 (UPI) -- Children may be at reduced risk for serious illness from COVID-19, but researchers observed that nearly one in four young people developed multiple organ-system failure as a result of the disease, a study published Monday shows.
A study of 48 children admitted to pediatric intensive care units in the United States for treatment after infection by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, shows the virus can lead to severe disease and require hospitalization, researchers reported in a multi-university study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
"The prognosis for children with COVID-19 is certainly much better than it is in adults," co-author Dr. Lara S. Shekerdemian, chief of critical care at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, told UPI.
However, "two out of 48 children in our study did die," she said.
Through Monday morning, nearly 1.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 were reported across the United States. Although no precise count infected children exists, data from China suggests that roughly 2 percent of confirmed cases involve young people.
The findings from Shekerdemain and her colleagues come one day after officials in New York confirmed that three children died from symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease -- or toxic shock syndrome -- after being infected with COVID-19. In all, 73 children across the state are being treated for what has been described as a mystery illness.
"This is the last thing that we need at this time with all that's going on, with all the anxiety we have," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the press Sunday. "Now, parents to have to worry about whether or not their youngster was infected."
There also is the question of what role, if any, children play in spreading the new coronavirus. A study published last week by researchers in Germany found that infected children carry the same amount of the virus as adults, which indicates they might be as infectious.
For their study, Shekerdemain and her team assessed 48 children -- with median age of 13 -- with COVID-19 who were admitted to 46 pediatric ICUs across North America between March 14 and April 3. Twenty-five were male.
Notably, 40 of the children had underlying health conditions before their COVID-19 diagnosis, including 11 with a medical history, seven who were obese, four with diabetes and three with a congenital heart disease.
In all, 35 of the young patients were admitted to the hospital with respiratory symptoms of COVID-19 -- including severe pneumonia -- and 18 required invasive ventilation. Ultimately, 11 experienced multiple organ-system failure, with most of these cases affecting the lungs or kidneys, researchers reported.
Most of the patients were treated with targeted therapies, with the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine the most commonly used drug, the authors said.
The patients were followed for up to four weeks and, at the conclusion of the follow-up period, 15 still were hospitalized. Among those who recovered and were discharged from the hospital, the median length of ICU stay was five days, with median hospital stay of seven days, the authors found.
Shekerdemain emphasized that the findings she and her colleagues presented are "early" and that more research is needed -- and ongoing -- to determine the true effects of COVID-19 on young people.
Still, she said, the outcomes of the patients in the study highlight the importance of "lifestyle modifications" -- including wearing masks in public and social distancing -- to prevent children from being infected and spreading the virus, particularly in light of the cases of Kawasaki disease-like symptoms in New York.
"We're still learning about the impact of the virus on the health of children, including the symptoms a minority of children appear to be getting that can be more devastating than COVID infection itself," she said. "Therefore, it's important for parents to take steps to protect their children."