A cough or other respiratory symptoms aren’t the only early signs of COVID-19 in children, according to researchers.
They examined the cases of five children who were admitted to the hospital with digestive tract symptoms and later diagnosed with pneumonia and COVID-19.
Children with sickness and diarrhea who also have a fever or history of exposure to coronavirus should be suspected of having COVID-19, concluded the authors of the study. The findings were published May 12 in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics.
“These children were seeking medical advice in the emergency department for unrelated problems, for example, one had a kidney stone, another a head trauma. All had pneumonia confirmed by chest CT scan before or soon after admission and then confirmed to have COVID-19,” said study author Dr. Wenbin Li, from the Department of Pediatrics at Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, China.
“While their initial symptoms may have been unrelated, or their COVID-19 symptoms were initially mild or relatively hidden before their admission to hospital, importantly, four of the five cases had digestive tract symptoms as the first manifestation of this disease,” he said in a journal news release.
Gastrointestinal symptoms initially experienced by some children with COVID-19 suggest that infection could occur through the digestive tract, as the type of receptors in lung cells targeted by the new coronavirus are also found in the intestines, according to Li.
“Most children are only mildly affected by COVID-19 and the few severe cases often have underlying health issues. It is easy to miss its diagnosis in the early stage, when a child has nonrespiratory symptoms or suffers from another illness,” he said.
“Based on our experience of dealing with COVID-19, in regions where this virus is epidemic, children suffering from digestive tract symptoms, especially with fever and/or a history of exposure to this disease, should be suspected of being infected with this virus,” Li said.
The findings can be used by doctors to quickly diagnose and isolate patients with similar symptoms, which will enable early treatment and reduce transmission of the coronavirus, said Li. However, he cautioned that more study is needed to confirm the findings.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on COVID-19.