illustration of lungs with coronavirus inside

Study compares outcomes of SARS-CoV-2 versus other respiratory viruses

illustration of lungs with coronavirus inside

Until now, little was known about the incidence and virus-specific patient outcome of SARS-CoV-2 compared to common seasonal respiratory viruses in children — including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human parainfluenza (hPIV), human metapneumovirus (hMPV), respiratory adenovirus and human rhinovirus (hHRV) and respiratory enterovirus (rENT).

Common respiratory viral infections were associated with a higher proportion of inpatient admissions but were similar in intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and death rates in hospitalized pediatric patients when compared to SARS-CoV-2, according to Children’s National Hospital researchers that led a study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Until now, little was known about the incidence and virus-specific patient outcome of SARS-CoV-2 compared to common seasonal respiratory viruses in children — including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human parainfluenza (hPIV), human metapneumovirus (hMPV), respiratory adenovirus and human rhinovirus (hHRV) and respiratory enterovirus (rENT).

The researchers also noted that there was an overall substantial decrease in seasonal respiratory viral infections, especially the severe forms that require hospitalization. They believe that this correlation might be associated with the adoption of COVID-19 public health mitigation efforts, which played a major role in the reduction of these viruses that often circulate in fall and winter. The retrospective cross-sectional cohort study analyzed over 55,000 patient admissions between Match 15 and December 31, 2020. The findings shed light on the incidences of eight common seasonal respiratory viral infections before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also compared patient outcomes associated with COVID-19 and these other viral infections among pediatric patients at Children’s National.

Xiaoyan Song, Ph.D., M.Sc., chief infection control officer at Children’s National, spoke to us about the study.

Q: Why is this important work?

A: This is the first study to date that has described and compared hospitalization rates, ICU admission rates and death associated with COVID-19, RSV, seasonal influenza, rhinovirus, enterovirus and other common respiratory viral infections in children in one study. Previously, studies have compared one or two viruses at a time. This study compared 8 viruses, including the most detected ones – COVID-19, RSV, seasonal flu, rhinovirus and enterovirus.

Q: How will this work benefit patients?

A: This study will inform patients, families and the public that preventative measures like masking, hand hygiene, avoiding crowds and avoiding people who are ill are good practices that work to protect children from getting COVID-19 but also from getting infected with RSV, influenza and other viruses. Any of these respiratory viruses could harm a patient to a point where the child may have to be hospitalized or receive ICU care.

You can read the full study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Drs. Wernovsky and Martin

Cardiac care leaders recognized for mentorship and innovation at AAP

Two Children’s National Hospital cardiac care leaders received prestigious recognition awards from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) during that organization’s virtual National Conference and Exhibition in October 2021.

  • Gil Wernovsky, M.D., cardiac critical care specialist at Children’s National Hospital, received the 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award from AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery, celebrating his 30-plus-years as a clinician, educator, mentor and leader in the field.
  • Gerard Martin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology, Children’s National Hospital, received the AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award, in recognition of his work to establish the use of pulse oximetry to screen newborn infants for critical congenital heart disease in the first 24 hours of life.

Dr. Wernovsky: 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award, AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery

Gil Wernovsky

Gil Wernovsky, M.D., received the 2021 Maria Serratto Master Educator Award from AAP Section on Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

The Master Educator Award is presented each year to a pediatric cardiologist or cardiothoracic surgeon who exemplifies excellence as an educator, mentor and/or leader in the field.

A practicing cardiac critical care specialist with more than 30 years’ experience in pediatric cardiology, Dr. Wernovsky trained and mentored more than 300 fellows in pediatric cardiology, cardiac surgery, neonatology, critical care medicine and cardiac anesthesia, in addition to countless residents and fellows. He also organizes national and international symposia to share expertise around the world. During the COVID-19 public health emergency, for example, he co-founded the Congenital Heart Academy (CHA). The CHA provides content from an international faculty of cardiac care to more than 26,000 practitioners in 112 countries and includes a thriving YouTube channel.

Dr. Wernovsky is also a founding member of several international societies focused on bringing together clinicians, researchers and students across sub-specialties of pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery for knowledge exchange and best practice sharing. These include: the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society, World Society for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery, the International Society of Pediatric Mechanical Circulatory Support and the Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Outcome Collaborative.

Dr. Wernovsky received the award on October 10 at the virtual Scientific Sessions of the 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition.

Dr. Martin: AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award

Gerard Martin

Gerard Martin, M.D., FAAP, FACC, FAHA, C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology, Children’s National Hospital, received the AAP Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) Achievement Award.

The Section on Advances in Therapeutics and Technology (SOATT) educates physicians, stimulates research and development and consults on therapeutics and technology-related matters for the AAP. The Achievement Award recognizes someone who has shown leadership in applying innovative approaches to solve pressing problems.

Dr. Martin is the C. Richard Beyda Professor of Cardiology and has cared for children at Children’s National for more than 30 years. As an advocate for congenital heart disease efforts nationally and internationally, he played an integral role in the development of an innovative use of existing hospital technology—the pulse oximeter—to detect critical congenital heart disease in newborn babies.

Today, Dr. Martin and colleagues across the United States and around the world have worked to make this screening method a standard of care for newborns everywhere. It is a part of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Recommended Uniform Screening Panel and has become law in every state. They continue to conduct research to refine the recommendations and hone-in on the most effective ways to harness these tools.

Dr. Martin was selected for this award in 2020. He accepted it and offered remarks during the 2021 virtual AAP National Conference and Exhibition on Monday, October 11, 2021.

child being bullied

Food allergy-related bullying assessment methods don’t fully capture hurdles

child being bullied

When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy-related bullying, 17% of kids said they’d been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy. But when asked to reply to a multi-item list of victimization behaviors, that number jumped to 31%.

Living with a food allergy can greatly impact a child’s everyday life – from limiting participation in social activities to being treated differently by peers. While previous research indicates many kids experience food allergy-related bullying, a new study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that offering kids with food allergies a multi-question assessment gives a more accurate picture of the size and scope of the problem.

When asked a simple “yes” or “no” question about food allergy-related bullying, 17% of kids said they’d been bullied, teased or harassed about their food allergy. But when asked to reply to a multi-item list of victimization behaviors, that number jumped to 31%. Furthermore, Children’s National Hospital researchers found that only 12% of parents reported being aware of it.

The reported bullying ranged from verbal teasing or criticism to more overt acts such as an allergen being waved in their face or intentionally put in their food. Researchers say identifying accurate assessment methods for this problem are critical so children can get the help they need.

“Food allergy-related bullying can have a negative impact on a child’s quality of life. By using a more comprehensive assessment, we found that children with food allergies were bullied more than originally reported and parents may be in the dark about it,” says Linda Herbert, Ph.D., director of the Psychosocial Clinical and Research Program in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Children’s National and one of the study’s researcher.

“The results of this study demonstrate a need for greater food allergy education and awareness of food allergy-related bullying among communities and schools where food allergy-related bullying is most likely to occur,” Herbert adds.

The study looked at food allergy-related bullying among a diverse patient population and evaluated parent-child disagreement and bullying assessment methods. It included 121 children and 121 primary caregivers who completed questionnaires. The children ranged in age from 9 to 15-years-old and were diagnosed by an allergist with at least one of the top eight IgE-mediated food allergies – peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, egg, wheat, soy, shellfish and fish.

Of the 41 youth who reported food allergy-related bullying:

  • 51% reported experiencing overt physical acts such as an allergen being waved in their face, thrown at them or intentionally put in their food.
  • 66% reported bullying experiences that are categorized as non-physical overt victimization acts including verbal teasing, remarks or criticisms about their allergy and verbal threats or intimidation.
  • Eight reported relational bullying, such as rumors being spread, people speaking behind their back and being intentionally ignored or excluded due to their food allergy.

The researchers also note that food allergy bullying perpetrators included, but were not limited to, classmates and other students, and bullying most commonly occurred at school.

The authors found that only 12% of parents reported that their child had been bullied because of their food allergy and of those, 93% said their child had reported the bullying to them. Some parents reported they had been made fun of or teased themselves because of concerns about their child’s food allergy.

“It’s important to find ways for children to open up about food allergy-related bullying,” Herbert says. “Asking additional specific questions about peer experiences during clinic appointments will hopefully get children and caregivers the help and support they need.”

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Award Number K23AI130184 and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health, under Award Number P20MD000198. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

flow chart of pulse ox study

Newborn screening for critical congenital heart disease serves as vital safety net

One of the nation’s longest-running newborn screening programs for critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) finds that screening continues to serve as a necessary tool to help identify every child with CCHD — even in states where the majority of babies are diagnosed before birth.

The screening program study findings were published in Pediatrics. The data is some of the first to provide long-term evidence for using pulse oximetry to screen newborns for critical congenital heart disease 24 hours after birth. This screening test was added to the Department of Health and Human Services Recommended Uniform Screening Panel in 2011 and is now required in all 50 states.

“This study reinforces why pulse oximetry screening for CCHD is an important tool in our arsenal to identify and treat critical congenital heart disease, and other conditions that affect the flow of oxygen throughout the body, as soon as possible,” says Bryanna Schwarz, M.D., a cardiology fellow at Children’s National Hospital and lead author. “We know that prompt, early detection and swift intervention is crucial to positive long-term outcomes for these kids.”

The team looked at the data and outcomes for all babies born throughout eight years at Holy Cross Hospital in suburban Maryland, one of the first community birthing hospitals in the country to routinely perform the screening. Over the eight-year period, 64,780 newborns were screened at the site. Of those:

  • Thirty-one failed the screening, and every baby who failed was found to have congenital heart disease or another important medical condition.
  • Twelve of the failures (38.7%) were babies with critical congenital heart disease who were not previously identified by prenatal detection.
  • Nine others (29%) had a non-critical congenital heart condition.
  • Ten additional babies (32%) had a non-cardiac condition.

The authors note that the 12 newborns with CCHD identified through pulse oximetry screening are noteworthy because they represent critical congenital heart disease cases that are not found before birth in the state of Maryland, where rates of prenatal diagnosis are relatively high. The finding indicates that screening after birth continues to play a critical role in ensuring every baby with critical congenital heart disease is identified and treated as quickly as possible.

“Holy Cross Health and Children’s National have had a decades-long relationship, as we mutually care for women and infants throughout the region. With Children’s National having the U.S. News & World Report #1 ranking Neonatology service in the nation and Holy Cross Hospital being among the top 10 hospitals for the number of babies delivered each year, we are honored to be leading together the great work that is being done to serve our health care community,” says Ann Burke, M.D., vice president of Medical Affairs at Holy Cross Hospital. “We are committed to continuing to do our part to care for women and infants, as well as contribute to the national landscape for neonatal care. We are delighted in the outcomes we have seen and look forward to continued advancement.”

In this study, infants who did not have critical congenital heart disease were considered “false positives” for CCHD. Still, every one of them was found to have another underlying condition, including non-critical congenital heart disease or non-cardiac conditions (such as sepsis and pneumonia) that would also require monitoring and treatment.

The researchers also ran a projection of recently recommended updates to the screening protocol, which include removing a second re-screen after a newborn fails the initial test, to look at whether removing the second rescreen to verify results would decrease accuracy. While the false positive rate did increase slightly from .03% to .04%, eliminating a second re-screen allowed the newborns who were identified to receive crucial care sooner without having to wait an additional hour for one more test to verify their condition.

“It’s time to stop asking if pulse oximetry is a necessary tool to detect critical heart disease in babies,” says Gerard Martin, M.D., M.A.C.C., senior author of the study and C.R. Beyda Professor of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital. “Our focus now should be on making evidence-based refinements to the screening protocol based on collected data to ensure the process is simple, can be performed consistently and provides as accurate results as possible.”

Could whole-exome sequencing become a standard part of state newborn screening?

smiling baby boy

There are concerns about implementing whole-exome sequencing since it takes away the child’s right to decide if they want to know — or not — about their specific inherited disease.

It is still premature to standardize an innovative methodology known as whole-exome sequencing (WES) as part of state newborn screening programs, argues Beth A. Tarini, M.D., M.S., associate director for the Center of Translational Research at Children’s National Hospital, in a new editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics.

About 4 million infants are born annually in the United States. Newborn screening is a mandatory state-run public health program that screens infants for inherited diseases in the first days of life so they can receive treatment before irreversible damage occurs. Several of these screening tests are done on blood drawn from an infant’s heel.

WES holds the potential to screen infants for thousands of disorders and traits, including those that appear in adulthood. But there are concerns about implementing WES since it takes away the child’s right to decide if they want to know — or not — about their specific inherited disease. There is also the unknown effect that it could have on their ability to obtain health insurance.

“As caretakers for their children, parents have the challenge of deciding what kind of information, including genetic, will be valuable for their child,” says Dr. Tarini. “As a society, we have the responsibility of deciding where the healthcare dollars get the best return – especially when it comes to children. We need to start that conversation for universal genomic sequencing of newborns sooner rather than later.”

The Pereira et al. study, appearing in the new edition of JAMA Pediatrics and referenced in Dr. Tarini’s editorial, is the first to demonstrate no significant harm in the initial 10 months of life after performing WES under the best conditions of access to resources and a controlled environment.

While the Pereira et al. study has limited data on the effects of WES on families from underrepresented backgrounds, Dr. Tarini notes that it does provide a critical first step in this area of pediatric genomic research and for policy decision-making about the widespread implementation of WES in newborns.

“Moving forward, the U.S. will have to make a collective decision about the value of WES for newborns,” says Dr. Tarini. That value calculus cannot be made without consideration of the general state of healthcare for infants. As she points out, “This is not an easy question to answer in a country whose infant mortality ranks 34th according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).”

Dr. Tarini’s research identifies ways to optimize the delivery of genetic services to families and children, particularly newborn screening. She has also chaired state newborn screening committees and served on several federal newborn screening committees.

Ugandan boy in hospital bed

Acute rheumatic fever often goes undiagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa

Ugandan boy in hospital bed

Despite low numbers of documented acute rheumatic fever cases in sub-Saharan Africa, the region continues to show some of the highest numbers of people with, and dying from, rheumatic heart disease, the serious heart damage caused by repeat instances of rheumatic fever.

Despite low numbers of documented acute rheumatic fever cases in sub-Saharan Africa, the region continues to show some of the highest numbers of people with, and dying from, rheumatic heart disease, the serious heart damage caused by repeat instances of rheumatic fever. A population-based study in the Lancet Global Health collected evidence of acute rheumatic fever in two areas of Uganda, providing the first quantifiable evidence in decades that the disease continues to take a deadly toll on the region’s people.

“These findings matter. Access to life-saving heart surgery is only available to a very small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of patients in Africa who have irreversible heart damage from rheumatic heart disease,” says Craig Sable, M.D., associate chief of Cardiology at Children’s National Hospital and one of the senior authors of the study. “It’s time to focus upstream on capturing these conditions sooner, even in low-resource settings, so we can implement life-sustaining and cost-saving preventive treatments that can prevent further heart damage.”

The authors, who hail from Uganda and several institutions around the United States, including Children’s National and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, note this is the first study to use an active case-finding strategy for diagnosing acute rheumatic fever. They also note that raising awareness in the community and among its healthcare workers while also finding new ways to overcome some of the diagnostic challenges in these low-resource settings greatly improved diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

The study also described clinical characteristics of children ages 5 to 14 presenting with both definitive and possible acute rheumatic fever, providing further clinical data points to help healthcare workers in these communities differentiate between this common infection and some of the other frequently diagnosed conditions in the region.

“With this study, we can now confidently dismiss the myth that acute rheumatic fever is rare in Africa,” the authors write. “It exists at elevated rates in low-resource settings such as Uganda, even though routine diagnosis remains uncommon. While these incidence data have likely underestimated the cases of acute rheumatic fever in two districts in Uganda, they show that opportunity exists to improve community sensitization and healthcare worker training to increase awareness of acute rheumatic fever. Ultimately this leads to diagnosing more children with the condition before they develop rheumatic heart disease, so that they can be offered secondary prophylaxis with penicillin.”

Children with suspected acute rheumatic fever participated in this population-based study. Data was collected over 12 months in Lira district (January 2018 to December 2018) and over nine months (June 2019 to February 2020) in Mbarara district.

Follow-up of children diagnosed in this study will provide more data on the outcomes of acute rheumatic fever, including a better understanding of the risk for a child to develop rheumatic heart disease.

This work was funded by the American Heart Association Children’s Strategically Focused Research Network Grant #17SFRN33670607 and by DEL‐15‐011 to THRiVE‐2 and General Electric.

Learn more about the challenges of rheumatic heart disease in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing parts of the world through the Rheumatic Heart Disease microdocumentary series: