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Study: Teens, kids with chronic health issues at higher risk for severe COVID-19

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Study: Teens, kids with chronic health issues at higher risk for severe COVID-19
Among young people, teenagers appear to be at increased risk for severe COVID-19 compared to younger children, a new study suggests. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Teenagers are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than children and adolescents, a study published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open found.

Just under 23% of people age 18 years or younger who tested positive for the virus in 41 hospital emergency rooms in 10 countries ultimately were admitted to the hospital, the data showed.

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Of these, about 3% developed serious health complications, the researchers said.

However, those ages 10 to 18 years were nearly 2 1/2 times as likely to develop severe symptoms compared with younger children, the researchers said.

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Similarly, young people with chronic health conditions had a more than two-fold higher risk for developing serious illness than otherwise healthy children, according to the researchers.

The findings are based on an analysis of data through June 21, or before the rise of the Omicron variant of the virus in much of the world and before vaccines were available for those under 16.

In addition, they only include data for young people sick enough from COVID-19 symptoms to go to the emergency room, and do not reflect all of those who tested positive for the virus, the researchers said.

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The United States has seen a rise in the numbers of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in recent weeks now that the strain, which was first identified in South Africa, is spreading, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday.

"If children are sick enough to need to be hospitalized, some do experience severe outcomes," study co-author Dr. Stephen Freedman told UPI by email.

"Those at greatest risk of severe outcomes are older children, notably teenagers [and] those with significant underlying diseases," said Freedman, a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the University of Calgary's Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute in Canada.

RELATED Older kids, those with chronic diseases at higher risk for severe COVID-19

During the first year of the pandemic, children and teens were found to be at lower risk for COVID-19 and for getting seriously ill from the disease, researchers found.

However, those trends began to change with the emergence of the Delta variant of the virus last spring.

For this study, Freedman and his colleagues analyzed data on more than 3,000 people age 18 years and younger who tested positive for COVID-19 at 41 hospital emergency rooms in 10 countries, including the United States.

Just over 60% of the young people included in the analysis were from the United States, and 15% indicated that they had at least one chronic health condition, with neurological and developmental disorders the most common, the researchers said.

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Within 14 days of testing positive, 735, or 23% of those in the study were hospitalized due to COVID-19 and 3% developed severe complications, including heart and lung problems and MIS-C, or multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children, the data showed.

Four of the children included in the analysis died from the virus and its related complications, according to the researchers.

What effect the Omicron variant will have on these numbers is "still to be determined," Freedman said.

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