June 11 (UPI) -- More than one in 10 children hospitalized with COVID-19 experience complications such as irregular heartbeats, lung failure and symptoms of viral pneumonia, a study published Friday by JAMA Network Open found.
Still, even with these potentially severe health problems, a relatively small number of children receive the medications designed to treat them, the data showed.
It is unclear why this was the case, though it could be because these drugs are rarely used in -- and may not be approved for -- children, the researchers said.
For example, children were less likely than adults to receive drugs such as remdesivir and hydroxychloroquine, both of which have been evaluated for use in COVID-19 treatment.
"There are still limited therapeutic options for COVID-19," study co-author Dr. Florence T. Bourgeois told UPI in an email.
"In our study, we found that few children were treated with some of the more experimental agents in use among adults," said Bourgeois, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
Although there is no cure for COVID-19, the antiviral remdesivir and corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, among others, have been shown to boost recovery in patients hospitalized due to the virus, research suggests.
Hydroxychloroquine does not appear to be effective at treating the virus, at least based on existing studies, despite earlier thoughts it might help.
At least until recently, children have been at lower risk for coronavirus infection and severe illness from COVID-19. But that may be changing, as new variants, or strains, of the virus continue to emerge, according to Bourgeois.
For this study, she and her colleagues analyzed the electronic health records of 671 children diagnosed with and treated for COVID-19 in six countries -- Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Singapore and the United States.
About 200, or 30%, of the children included in the study were age 2 and younger, while 25% were age 12 to 17.
Of the children in the study, 15% experienced cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, due to COVID-19, while 13% had viral pneumonia, a severe lung infection caused by the virus.
Eleven percent of the children also suffered from lung failure as a result of COVID-19.
However, only six of the children in the study received remdesivir, while seven were given the less-effective hydroxychloroquine, the data showed.
Moreover, fewer than one in five of the children were treated with ACE inhibitors, ARB blockers and diuretics, all of which are used to help prevent blood pressure and related heart complications, the researchers said.
The patients included in the study were treated between February and November of last year, so treatment trends in children may change if or when more develop serious illness due to the emergence of new virus variants, according to the researchers.
As more children become seriously ill, it is "likely we would see increased use of medications such as steroids and drugs used to treat specific symptoms," Bourgeois said.