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Race and obesity play important roles in childhood coronavirus

MIS-C complications also prominent in overweight youth

By Isabell Rivera, OW Contributor | 12/3/2020, 6 a.m.
It’s been months since the novel coronavirus took over the globe and still no break in sight...

It’s been months since the novel coronavirus took over the globe and still no break in sight. There are still questions about how the virus attacks and why some people are more prone to getting affected by it and others are not. The answers are still being researched all around the world.

First, it was said that only people with an autoimmune disease, as well as the elderly, are at risk but as new research shows, children are no exception, although children younger than 18 would either be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, however, obese children are even at higher risk of contracting the virus.

According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), African-American and Hispanic children are at much higher risk to get infected with COVID-19 than White children.

A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics said that more than 338,000 children nationwide were diagnosed with the virus as of July 31. Which is 8 percent of the reported estimated 5 million COVID-19 cases across the nation.

The first CDC report stated that between March and July, “weekly hospitalization rates steadily increased among children,” and that African-American- and Hispanic children are especially at risk.

According to the CDC analysis, 91.3 percent of children who reported their ethnicity and race, 55.8 percent were Hispanic, 29.7 percent were of African-American descent, 14.1 percent were Caucasian-American, 4.6 percent were non-Hispanic Asian or Pacific Islander, and 0.8 percent identified as Indian/Alaska Native.

Amid 36.1 percent of the hospitalized children, almost a third were brought to the intensive care unit (ICU), and although the number of children being hospitalized is lower than that of adults, the weekly hospitalization rates of children have increased, almost equal to the number of adults with COVID-19.

According to the analysis of the CDC, 42 percent of the 208 children who were tested had a precondition -- obesity.

“Childhood obesity affects almost 1 in 5 U.S. children," the authors mentioned in the CDC report, “and is more prevalent in Black and Hispanic children.”

The exact relation between obesity in children and the seriousness of the COVID-19 effects are still being researched, however, there’s also a relationship between obesity and the virus among adults.

Critical care physician Dr. Josh Denson at Tulane Medical in New Orleans recently published a report regarding the connection between COVID-19 and obesity in young African-Americans.

“There's something about obesity that causes an underlying inflammatory state that we don't understand that much about,” Denson told another news outlet.

Denson’s study has found that African-Americans especially are critically impacted by the seriousness of the virus.

Although rare, one of the most critical complications of COVID-19 in obese children is called “Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome” also known as MIS-C. It usually takes an estimated two to four weeks after the beginning of COVID-19 for recognizable symptoms. MIS-C symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, skin rash, a high fever that lasts up to 24 hours or longer, a fast heartbeat, and unusual fatigue. As of now, there is no cure for MIS-C, or other COVID-19 complications in children. Patients are being treated with supportive care, as well as anti-inflammatories to improve their lung and heart functions.

According to a second CDC report -- which focuses on obese children with MIS-C -- obesity was the most common underlying condition in 30.5 percent of Hispanic, 27.5 percent of African-American and only 6.6 percent of Caucasian-American children.

The majority of patients with COVID-19 complications - almost 64 percent of the 570 cases - were transferred to the ICU. Children of Hispanic, African-American, and Caucasian-Americans descent who are obese and are diagnosed with MIS-C were hospitalized at a higher quantity than the general population of young patients. African-American and Hispanic children are reported to be at the highest percentage -- 73.6 percent -- of reported patients with MIS-C.

During the current pandemic Hispanic and African-American communities were hit the hardest with COVID-19 cases. Deep-rooted inequity in regards to housing, employment, and health insurance put many families at higher risk to contract virus-related complications, such as MIS-C.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a project named PreVAIL kIds is launching that will focus to deter which children are at higher risk of experiencing COVID-19 complications and why.

Part of the project will include analyzing blood samples of children infected with the virus so scientists can discover how COVID-19 impacts young adults and children.

“This is a new virus, and it’s really critical to understand what it does to children long term,” Dr. Bill Kapogiannis, said senior medical officer at the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.