UK study finds more Omicron hospitalisations in youngest children, but cases mild

·2 min read
Health workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic outside the Royal London Hospital in London

LONDON (Reuters) - Infants under one are proportionally more likely to be hospitalised with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus than older children but they did not become particularly sick, British researchers said.

Of children hospitalised with COVID-19 in the last four weeks, 42% were under one, compared with around 30% in previous waves, the early data showed.

Presenting the data, Russell Viner, professor of child and adolescent health at University College London, told reporters the trend was likely in part because Omicron symptoms might resemble the sort of respiratory conditions that would encourage parents to take babies to hospital as a precaution.

"These are not particularly sick infants. In fact, they're coming in for short periods of time," study author Calum Semple, professor in child health and outbreak medicine, University of Liverpool, added, saying the proportion requiring oxygen was falling.

The vaccination of over-12s might explain some of the proportional fall in older children going to hospital, Semple said, but it did not explain it all. Viner said the data was very early and could change.

Omicron has spread rapidly in Britain and fuelled a spike in cases to record highs, though the variant is less severe than previous ones, and high vaccination levels among adults have also helped to limit the rise in hospitalisations. Children are less vulnerable than older adults to COVID-19.

The study was shared with government advisers, who published it on Friday.

Reacting to the research, the separate UK Health Security Agency said that data continued to show COVID-19 posed a very low risk to children and infants.

"We’ll be undertaking further analysis to investigate the small rise in the number of children admitted to hospital," Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said.

"Early data shows that young children who are hospitalised experience mild illness and are discharged after short stays in hospital."

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Alison Williams)

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