Children and the Risk of Ebola

At Bellvue Hospital in New York City, the parents of a five year old boy were relieved to find out that their son does not have Ebola. But did you know that children may have less risk of catching Ebola and of dying from it? In past Ebola outbreaks, according to just a handful of studies, children usually do not get infected as often as adults do but when they do, surprisingly, they’re somewhat more likely to live.
The typical victim is an adult woman because more women work as hospital nurses, more women take care of the sick at home, and more women wash bodies for burial. The typical child victim is under five because they cling close to their mothers, but when older children and teenagers do get Ebola, they’re about 20 percent less likely to die. Doctors don’t know why but doctors do have an idea about why some children do better than others.
A study published this month by the CDC looked at an Ebola outbreak in Uganda that lasted from 2000 to 2001. It found that children who had lots of inflammation in the cells lining their blood vessels were more likely to get organ damage and die. That tells pediatricians that they should try to control that inflammation.
Statins, the same drugs that many adults take for high cholesterol, might help but there’s no data on what dose of statins is safe for a small child, much less what dose might be useful for fighting Ebola. As one pediatrician said, that shouldn’t deter us from trying it but we’re stepping off the reservation here.
The most important intervention is keeping children hydrated. Because their bodies are smaller, children die of vomiting and diarrhoea much faster than adults do and it’s tough to work on a child while wearing full protective gear. Children have small veins; it’s hard to put in IV’s when you’re wearing two sets of gloves and the space suits that the doctors and nurses have to wear can be scary for kids.
So should parents be pulling children out of school to avoid contact with others? Public health officials say “No.” They’ve worried throughout this epidemic that there can be an unjustified racist backlash against African kids in American schools. Kids get sick for many reasons. It’s important to remember: lots of kids vomit, lots of kids run fevers, lots of kids get runny noses. It’s almost always flu or something else innocuous and you wouldn’t pull your kids out of school just because a classmate has the flu.

Source: nytimes

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