Health bodies have largely struck a reassuring tone about the new Omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa. The World Health Organization recently suggested it causes a “mild disease”, based on the evidence it had seen. However, reports out of South Africa are starting to jar with this analysis. Children severly sick with Covid are filling up hospitals in the region.
A surge in Omicron cases in South Africa is coinciding with a flood of severely sick children in hospitals.
Although it is unclear whether the Omicron variant is behind the surge in child admissions, more kids are piling up in hospitals with severe Covid.
Doctor Rudo Mathivha, head of ICU at Chris Hani Barahwanath hospital, has said the shift in demographics means hospitals are again rapidly filling up with patients.
She said her hospital is reportedly admitting around five to 10 kids at a time.
“In the past, the children used to get a Covid infection … and it wouldn’t really put them down, it wouldn’t really send them to hospital in big numbers to be admitted.
“We are now seeing them [children] coming in with moderate to severe symptoms needing supplemental oxygen, needing supportive therapy, needing to stay in hospital for quite a number of days.”
She continued: “What really broke my heart yesterday was a 15-year-old previously well child, no illness.
“Two day history of fever, comes into the hospital, tests positive for Covid and literally deteriorates in front of our eyes and nothing, no supportive therapy that we could do could help him.
“And we lost that patient … this is the first incident [here] of a child who had no comorbidities and nothing existing before who has passed from Covid that I am aware of.”
What is driving this alarming trend?
According to doctor Eric Feigl-Ding, epidemiologist and health economist, we should look to vaccinate rates to make sense of what’s happening.
“Notice how hospital admissions are increasing in children and young men (compared to the previous wave) while are decreasing in older age-groups,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Young people are least vaccinated – the surge is hitting unvaxxed young people hard.”
Speaking with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Doctor Mathivha warned the hospital was filling so fast with patients that it may not be able to admit any more children.
She said: “This is going to be a major problem for us. Our hospitals were not built to house a lot of children. Because naturally children do not get that sick in multitude.
“We will not be able to accommodate them, and I’m not saying this to make people panic.
“I am saying this to say, all these preventive measures we take to interrupt transmission of Covid let them be applied to the children as well.”