COVID impact may increase in children if virus changes behaviour, national expert group formed to strengthen preparedness: Govt

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New Delhi, Jun 1 (PTI) The government on Tuesday cautioned that even though COVID-19 has not taken a serious shape among children till now, its impact can increase among them if there is a change in virus behaviour or epidemiology dynamics, and steps are being taken to strengthen preparedness to deal with any such situation.

A national expert group has been formed to review COVID-19 infections in children and approach the pandemic in a renewed way so as to strengthen the nation's preparedness, NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul said at a press conference.

The group has examined signs which were not available 4–5 months before, he said.

It has also considered available data, clinical profile, the country's experience, disease dynamics, nature of the virus and the pandemic and has come up with guidelines, which will be publicly released soon.

“While we have been systematically reviewing scientific developments in this area, the group has been formed to take an updated view of the situation,' Paul said.

Noting that paediatric COVID-19 is gaining attention, he informed that there will be no deficiency in the care and infrastructure required for children who may get infected.

“COVID-19 in children is often asymptomatic and rarely requires hospitalization.

'However, changes in epidemiological dynamics or viral behaviour can change the situation and increase the prevalence of infection. No undue burden has been placed on the paediatric care infrastructure so far. However, it is possible that 2-3 percent of children who get infected may need hospitalization,' Paul said.

'We reassure you that the needs of the paediatric population will be arranged and no gaps will be left,' Paul said, adding 'we will do an audit of what is required and would be required in the worst-case scenario and be put into action.' Paul informed that COVID-19 in children may take two forms -in one form, symptoms like infection, cough, fever and pneumonia may occur, followed by hospitalisation in some cases.

In the second case, after 2-6 weeks of getting COVID, which may mostly be asymptomatic, a small proportion of children may show symptoms like fever, body rash, and inflammation of eyes or conjunctivitis, breathing troubles, diarrhoea, vomiting and so on. 'It may not remain restricted like pneumonia affecting lungs. It spreads to various parts of the body. This is called Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C). This is a post-COVID symptom. At this time, he virus will not be found in the body and RT-PCR test will also come negative. But antibody test will show that the child had been infected by the disease,' he said.

Guidelines are being formulated to treat this unique disease found in some children, which presents itself as an emergency situation. 'Though treatment is not difficult, it has to be timely,' he said.

Paul said that 2-3 percent of children infected with COVID might need hospitalisation.

'We have looked into scientific developments in the matter systematically and the data we have shows that admission of children in large COVID facilities is very small. It has not happened till now that paediatric infrastructure was unusually burdened with cases,' he added.

But keeping in view all kinds of scenarios, Paul said a national group has been formed to look into it.

'In short, we are happy to report to you that we are working very systematically and comprehensively to address the problem of paediatric COVID disease now as well as into the future and we will strengthen our facilities as required,' he said. PTI PLB/UZM RT RT

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