Stay home to keep children with medical conditions healthy, experts say
Published on Saturday, April 11, 2020
By: Annie Oeth, firstname.lastname@example.org
Though Sybil Cumberland and her brother, Davis, look healthy, the siblings are at increased risk of complications if either came down with a case of COVID-19.
Sybil, the state’s 2020 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion, was born with a heart defect. Though she has had successful surgeries to correct the condition, she and her brother, who has a lung condition, need to stay healthy.
“We want everyone to follow shelter-in-place orders and recommendations for social distancing,” said their mother, Tara Cumberland of Preston. “When people do what’s needed to stop the spread of COVID-19, they’re not just keeping themselves healthy. They’re helping to keep these children healthy, too.”
Children with heart conditions are among those who are “at increased risk for becoming quite ill with COVID-19,” said Dr. William Moskowitz, professor and chief of pediatric cardiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and co-director of the Children’s Heart Center.
“It is fortunate that young children appear to be less frequently affected severely, but some infants and young children around the country have tested positive for the virus and have required hospitalization and critical care,” he said. “Some young people have succumbed to the disease.”
Children battling cancer have compromised immune systems, putting them at risk also, said Dr. Anderson Collier, professor and chief of hematology and oncology and director of the Children’s of Mississippi Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.
“For most people, the common cold is a nuisance. For children with compromised immune systems, it can cause them to be hospitalized,” Collier said. “For most people, influenza makes them feel bad and causes them to stay home for several days recovering. For children with compromised immune systems, influenza will cause them to be in the hospital and increases their risk of a secondary pneumonia, organ dysfunction, need for a ventilator, or, rarely, death. COVID-19 is worse than either of those. This virus is deadly to otherwise healthy people.”
The risk of developing severe pneumonia, he said, “is a real threat to these vulnerable children.”
Knowing the risk children who have medical conditions would face during a pandemic, Children’s of Mississippi experts began planning to protect patients from coronavirus exposure while still providing them needed care.
“Stable patients who were scheduled for routine initial or follow-up visits had their appointments rescheduled for several months into the future,” Moskowitz said. “Those patients who required investigation whether new patients or established patients but were able and willing to be seen through a telemedicine visit are being seen that way.”
Those cardiology patients who need face-to-face care, catheterization or emergent surgery are still getting the services they need, Moskowitz said.
Cancer and blood disorder patients cannot delay their care, Collier said. “Even in the face of a pandemic, their treatment must continue. They must continue to receive blood transfusions and chemotherapy. They will continue to be admitted with the normal complications of their illness. They do not need the extraordinary complications of COVID-19.”
Families of children at risk have been vigilant, Collier said. “The families of these kids are more cautions at baseline, but this pandemic has raised their anxiety level significantly and prompted most of them to not leave their house unless they have to come to the hospital to continue their treatment.”
Many Children’s of Mississippi patients have complex conditions that require care from several pediatric subspecialists. These patients, too, are at risk, said Dr. Sara Weisenberger, UMMC associate professor of pediatrics and medical director of Children’s of Mississippi’s Complex Care Clinic at the Jackson Medical Mall.
“So many disabling and debilitating conditions lead to an inability to weather the virus, which evidently can trigger a robust immune response, especially in the lungs, as well as the heart and other organ systems,” she said. “Our children with special health care needs have issues in almost every organ system, so imagine that impact. That’s why the outcome for them could be fearfully poor.”
Staying home is the best way to protect these children. Other ways to keep them, as well as all families, safe include:
- Ask friends and relatives to use remote visits by phone or computer instead of personal ones.
- Wash your hands. Use soap and water and wash for 20 seconds. Wash often. Sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Use hand sanitizer if you cannot wash your hands.
- Refrain from touching your mouth, eyes or nose with unwashed hands.
- Avoid crowds.
- Use disinfectant wipes on surfaces in your home and auto that you frequently touch. Think of your phone, handrails, door knobs and other such items.