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Reductions in child hospitalisations in first year of pandemic

Thursday January 13th 2022

There was a dramatic fall in hospital admissions for childhood infections in England during 2020, a new study shows today.

A study by the University of Oxford found that social distancing measures, school and workplace closures, and travel restrictions in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic were the most likely reasons for the reduction.

Writing in the The BMJ today, the researchers say while many of these measures are unsustainable outside of the pandemic, there should be an evaluation of interventions that could continue to minimise the burden on health systems and protect vulnerable children.

The research team assessed hospital admission rates and mortality outcomes for 19 common childhood respiratory infections, severe invasive infections, and vaccine preventable diseases before and after the onset of the pandemic in England.

These included tonsillitis, influenza and bronchiolitis, sepsis, meningitis and osteomyelitis, measles and mumps and included data for all children, from birth to 14 years, who were admitted to an NHS hospital in England with an infection from 1 March, 2017, to 30 June, 2021.

Reductions in hospital admissions were found for all but one of the 19 infective conditions studied after 1 March, 2020, with the biggest drop in respiratory infections being influenza, where the number of hospital admissions decreased by 94% from 5,379 (annual mean from 1 March, 2017, to 29 February, 2020) to 304 in the 12 months after 1 March, 2020.

For bronchiolitis, admissions decreased by more than 80% from 51,655 (annual mean 2017-20) to 9,423 in 2020-21.

Among the severe invasive infections, reductions ranged from 26% for osteomyelitis to 50% for meningitis, while for the vaccine preventable infections, reductions ranged from 53% for mumps to 90% for measles, where admissions fell from 149 (annual mean 2017-20) to 15 in 2020-21.

These reductions were similar across all geographical regions, deprivation and ethnic groups, as well as among children with existing conditions who are at greatest risk of severe illness and death from infection.

The only infection that did not show a reduction in hospital admissions was pyelonephritis, but the researchers say this might be because non-drug interventions and social restrictions have no impact on this condition.

Although these are observational findings, the authors say the study is robust because it included all relevant hospital admissions for a range of infections among the entire child population of England over several years.

Kadambari S, Goldacre R, Morris E et al. Indirect effects of the covid-19 pandemic on childhood infection in England: population based observational study. The BMJ 13 January 2022

[abstract]

Tags: A&E | Child Health | Flu & Viruses | UK News

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