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x-ray of child's chest with COVID

Chest X-rays help distinguish COVID-19 from other types of viral respiratory infections

x-ray of child's chest with COVID

COVID-19 in a 9-month infant demonstrating a GGO/consolidation pattern.

Increased infections of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses in kids are filling up children’s hospitals, pushing them to critical occupancy nationwide. As schools open, the community spread of viral infections has become more common, and the rapid differentiation of pediatric COVID-19 from other viruses is — more than ever — relevant to pediatric clinicians.

“Pediatric cases have increased exponentially and currently represent over 15% of the total cases, and about 26% of the new infections in the U.S. Chest imaging is a powerful tool for determining their status.” said Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Hospital.

In a new peer-reviewed study, researchers from Children’s National found novel and clinically relevant data regarding the specific lung imaging patterns of pediatric COVID-19 on chest radiographs (CXR), their relationship to clinical outcomes and the possible differences from infections caused by other respiratory viruses in children.

“While most studies have focused on clinical manifestations and lung imaging of COVID-19 in adults, this study is the first to define specific patterns of clinical disease and imaging signatures in CXR in different age groups of children infected with COVID-19,” said Gustavo Nino, M.D., director of sleep medicine at Children’s National.

Lung imaging has become critically important for the early identification and treatment of pediatric patients affected by COVID-19 and may play an important role in distinguishing COVID-19 infection from viral bronchiolitis.

“The old perception that COVID-19 only affects older patients is no longer true,” said Dr. Nino. “Pediatric intensive care units and emergency departments are overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, and now hospitals are admitting more children with COVID-19 than ever.”

As next steps, Nino et al. will develop pediatric-centered technology for early identification, risk stratification, and outcome prediction of COVID-19 in children, similar to what the scientific community has done for adults.

illustration of lungs surrounded by virus

COVID-19: First comprehensive review of pediatric lung imaging features

illustration of lungs surrounded by virus

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Children’s National Hospital researchers, published in Pediatric Pulmonology, provides the first comprehensive review of the findings of published studies describing COVID-19 lung imaging data in children.

The number COVID-19 studies focused on children have been small and with limited data. This has prevented the identification of specific pediatric lung disease patterns in COVID-19. Although children make up around 9.5% of COVID-19 infections, less than 2% of the literature on the virus, its symptoms and effects, have focused on kids.

A systematic review and meta-analysis by Children’s National Hospital researchers, published in Pediatric Pulmonology, provides the first comprehensive review of the findings of published studies describing COVID-19 lung imaging data in children. The analysis concludes that chest CT manifestations in children with COVID‐19 could potentially prompt intervention in the pediatric population.

Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National, discusses the importance of this work.

Q: What findings stand out to you?

A: We found that more than a third of children with COVID-19 had normal imaging. The lung imaging findings in these children were overall less frequent and less severe than in adult patients, but they were also more heterogeneous than in adults. Importantly, children with COVID-19 were three times more likely to have a normal exam than adults.

Several common lung imaging findings reported in adults were extremely rare or not found in the pediatric studies. These discoveries, and other recent reports in this space, support the fact that children’s symptoms may be less obvious than adults or even absent, but they still carry the virus and may be at risk for serious and life-threatening illness.

Marius George Linguraru

Marius George Linguraru, D.Phil., M.A., M.Sc., principal investigator in the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National.

Q: How will the findings of this study benefit pediatric care?

A: In our study, we showed how the health of the lungs of these children is impacted. Our results from data from 1,026 children (from newborns to 18 year old) with COVID-19 present chest manifestations that could potentially prompt informed intervention and better recovery.

Another conclusion of our study is that the abnormalities reported on the chest scans of children infected with COVID-19 are distinct from the typical lung images seen during other viral respiratory infections in the pediatric population. This is important for preparing for the cold and flu season.

Q: Why was this review important to our understanding of how COVID-19 impacts children?

A: This is the first systematic review and meta-analysis focused on the manifestation of the COVID-19 infection in the lungs of children. Our study, and others from colleagues at Children’s National, helps lead the efforts on elucidating how the pandemic affects the health of children.

Though children were initially thought to be less susceptible to infection, the data has made it clear that many children are at high risk for hospitalization and severe health complications. Although there are similarities between how children and adults are affected by the pandemic, there are also critical differences.

Given the limited knowledge in the manifestation of COVID-19 in children, with children susceptible to infection and hospitalization, and with children returning to school, continued efforts to understand the impact of COVID-19 on young patients is critically important. Understanding how children fare through the pandemic is the foundation of discovering better ways to take care of young patients and their health.

You can find the full study published in Pediatric Pulmonology. Learn more about the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National.