COVID-19 reduced paediatric viral admissions in Perth

Ongoing research at Perth Children’s Hospital is revealing the unprecedented effect that health measures associated with COVID-19 had on common paediatric presentations.

A current research project is evaluating the unintended health service consequences that COVID-19 health restrictions had on hospital admissions for acute lower respiratory infections, viral and febrile illnesses, gastroenteritis and trauma.

The project is led by Dr Hannah Moore and brings together clinicians and researchers from the Wesfarmers Centre for Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at Telethon Kids Institute and Perth Children’s Hospital. The main goal of this project is to compare hospital admissions of these conditions before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the initial key findings of this project focused on how COVID-19 public health restrictions affected the detection of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza in children.

Unprecedented low levels
In a recently published article, Dr Moore’s team found that  during the winter of 2020, there were 98% and 99.4% reductions in the number of RSV and influenza detection, respectively, in Western Australian children. The extreme reductions in the number of cases occurred despite winter being the usual peak season of these two conditions, and despite the re-opening of school in WA.

These findings are attributed to the effectiveness of public health restrictions related to COVID-19, particularly regarding the closure of borders. “We observed persistent low influenza and RSV activity, even following the relaxation of local COVID-19 restrictions; indicating international and perhaps to a lesser extent, national, border restrictions may have played an important role by preventing external introductions of these viruses,” lead author Dr Daniel Yeoh from Perth Chidlren’s Hospital reported.

This observation, concerning the role of COVID-19 restrictions is further supported by the quick spike in the number of RSV cases detected after the lift of restrictions, and published in a follow-up study by the same research group, summarised in the figure below. “These data demonstrate the fragility of RSV control and the critical impact of physical distancing and respiratory hygiene practices. The rise in numbers and change in median age suggest that the expanded cohort of RSV-naïve patients, including an increased number of older children coupled with waning population immunity, may have contributed to this marked resurgence,” the authors report.

Future research by this team of researchers aims to assess the changes in paediatric hospital admissions during this same period of time, for all acute lower respiratory infections, but also for conditions like viral and febrile illnesses, gastroenteritis and trauma, to determine how COVID-19 public health restrictions affected the number of hospital inpatient admissions.