Since mid-December 2019, an infection caused by a new type of coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) emerged in Wuhan (Hubei Province, China) and spread rapidly worldwide. The emerging SARS-COV-2 is a beta coronavirus that can cause COVID-19, officially named by the World Health Organization (WHO) on February 11, 2020. This virus is highly contagious and can be transmitted by an infected person or an asymptomatic carrier through respiratory droplets, tear fluid and close contacts. The incubation period is variable. It has been estimated that the median incubation period is 5.1 days and that 97.5% of infected patients will develop symptoms within 11.5 days of infection.
Despite the high number of people affected, data on clinical features and prognostic factors in children and adolescents are limXited. Children are part of a very special group. Similarly to the SARS-COV 2002–2003 epidemic [1, 2], pediatric COVID-19 appears to be mild or asymptomatic [3, 4]. Children become less ill than adults and most of them contract the infection mainly through close contact with their parents or other family members with COVID-19. Many children infected with SARS-COV-2 manifest a mild disease that often does not require hospitalization. Compared to adults, children have a lower chance of developing interstitial pneumonia, one of the most serious complications of the infection, which in the advanced form requires hospitalization in intensive care. As for the adults, the presence of congenital heart disease, lung and airway disease, malnutrition, and cancer makes children more susceptible to COVID-19.
There are several hypotheses on the mechanisms underlying the lower susceptibility of children to COVID-19 infection than adults: i) a more efficient immune response due to the stimulation given by typical age vaccinations; ii) a lower expression of the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor to which the virus would bind to enter cells ; iii) an “immaturity” of the ACE2 receptors, which makes it difficult for the virus to enter the body ; and iv) external factors (before the lockdown, children were less likely than adults to visit places that could have facilitated the spread of the virus, such as railway stations and airports) .
In children with COVID-19, fever and cough are the most common clinical manifestations, sometimes accompanied by fatigue, myalgia, nasal congestion, sneezing, sore throat, headache, dizziness, vomit and abdominal pain. Moreover, some children do not manifest fever, but only cough or diarrhoea, or they may be asymptomatic. The latter, even if they do not manifest symptoms, may play significant roles in the transmission of COVID-19 in the community.
Italy was one of the European countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. By 16 April 2020, 1123 children, up to 9 years of age, and 1804 adolescents, aged between 10 and 19 years old were tested positives for COVID-19 .
In Italy most of the data on COVID-19 pediatric patients derive from a multicentre study promoted by the Italian Society of Paediatric Infectious Diseases (SITIP), within the Italian Society of Paediatrics (SIP). In this study 168 children aged 1 day to 17 years, 94 (55.9%) males and 74 (40.1%) females, with confirmed COVID-19 were analysed . 65.1% of these children were hospitalized: of these, only 17 (15.5%) were sent to the hospital after seeing a paediatrician or family doctor. Moreover, 5.9% of children documented co-infections with other viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus, rhinovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, influenza A virus and a non-SARS coronavirus. Bacterial co-infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae has also been documented. Pre-existing chronic pathologies, such as chronic lung diseases (n = 7), congenital malformations or complex genetic syndromes (n = 14), cancer (n = 4), epilepsy were found in 33 children. Moreover, gastrointestinal (n = 2) or metabolic (n = 1) disorders were found. Among these patients 4 were immunosuppressed and 3 immunocompromised. The hospitalization rate was similar between children with and those without co-morbidity.
Studies have reported a higher incidence of COVID-19 in males than in females in the adult population . This study is aimed to evaluate clinical characteristics of children infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Italy.
For this purpose, 66 patients admitted to Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital of Rome (Italy) in the period from the end of February to July 2020 were analysed.