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Omicron increased risk for COVID-19 infection among children under 5, study finds

Children under 5 years were less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 if they were infected with the Omicron variant, according to a new study. File photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/9fb953be5f750ef151c03667c20b9a0a/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
Children under 5 years were less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 if they were infected with the Omicron variant, according to a new study. File photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

April 1 (UPI) -- During the surge in cases fueled by the Omicron variant, children age 5 years and younger caught COVID-19 at rates six- to eight-fold higher than those seen with the Delta strain, a study published Friday by JAMA Pediatrics found.

However, young children sickened with the Omicron variant of the virus were about half as likely to require treatment in the hospital and/or intensive care unit compared with those infected with Delta, the data showed.

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Fewer than 2% of children age 5 years and younger who confirmed COVID-19 infections caused by the Omicron variant were admitted to the hospital, the researchers said.

For those found to have been infected with the Delta variant of the virus, this figure was 4%, according to the researchers.

RELATED Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine reduced hospitalizations of kids during Omicron

"Omicron is highly infectious in children, more so than the Delta variant," Rong Xu, one of the study co-authors, told UPI in an email.

"While Omicron is [also] less severe, the risk for severe outcomes associated with Omicron is not zero -- there are still substantial children infected with Omicron could develop severe outcomes," said Xu, a professor of biomedical informatics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

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Although research indicated that the Omicron variant, which first emerged in South Africa last November, causes less severe illness than earlier strains, it also spread more rapidly, data suggests.

RELATED CDC: Omicron variant caused surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, fewer deaths at peak

Because more people were infected, the United States saw an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations -- though fewer deaths -- during the surge in cases caused by the variant, including in children, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings of this study are based on analysis of data on more than 45,000 children who tested positive for COVID-19 between Sept. 1, 2021, and Jan. 31.

Half of the children included in the study had been infected with the Omicron variant, while the remainder had Delta, as confirmed by analysis of virus samples, the researchers said.

RELATED CDC sees marked rise in COVID-19 children's hospitalizations

The currently available COVID-19 vaccines -- from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech -- have not yet been cleared for use in children age 5 years and younger.

"Given that there is so much that we don't know, the best way is to take precautions for our children and don't let them get COVID-19 in the first place," Xu said.

With the vaccine still not available in this age group, "I think that masking in crowded spaces is still a cost-effective way to limit COVID-19 infections," she said.

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