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Understanding COVID-19 & Kids

Very little is known about how COVID-19 affects children and what the best treatment is for those who become infected. Thanks to new federal funding and generous support from our community, a University of Calgary researcher who is also an emergency physician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital is hoping to change that. Dr. Stephen Freedman, holder of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Professorship in Child Health & Wellness is now leading a group of pediatric emergency medicine clinicians and researchers in a study that will begin around the world immediately.

“We want to identify the differences in symptoms between children infected by COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses such as influenza so we can tailor testing and treatment approaches to achieve the best results,” says Freedman.

“Very little research has been published on COVID-19 infection in children. Healthcare professionals need information now.”

Leading the quest for COVID-19 answers

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Researchers will collect data from 12,500 children brought to emergency departments with respiratory illness at 50 sites in 14 countries. The Alberta Children’s Hospital is the lead site for this effort and data collection is already underway.

“The Pediatric Emergency Research Team based at the Alberta Children’s Hospital is amazing and they were laser-focused to get this study launched,” says Freedman, a professor in the departments of Paediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine. “We’ve been able to fast-track this work by taking advantage of infrastructure created by the Pediatric Emergency Research Network group which is conducting a global pediatric pneumonia study.”

Researchers will follow a child’s experience for 90 days, recording travel history, exposures and symptoms, and reviewing lab tests, x-rays, treatment and outcomes.

Does COVID-19 affect children differently than adults?

“It seems that adults get sickest seven to ten days after first seeing a doctor. We need to know whether that’s the same for children so that we can identify at-risk children and optimal interventions and when to initiate them to best help children,” says Freedman.

Study participants will include both children who test positive for COVID-19 and those who test negative. This will allow researchers to make comparisons between those infected by the coronavirus and those with other respiratory illnesses. Researchers will also look at long-term outcomes for those infected with COVID-19 to determine whether it leads to any chronic conditions. The study will also evaluate the impact regional policies have on the health of children.

Community support makes life-saving COVID-19 research possible

Freedman is one of the recipients of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding announced March 19. Seed funding to initiate this global COVID-19 project was provided by generous community donations to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation. Additional support was provided by the University of Calgary/Alberta Health Service’s Clinical Research Fund. Freedman is a member of Cumming School of Medicine’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health.

Freedman says information gathered in the study will be shared in real-time with clinicians, researchers and public health agency partners throughout the world including the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and the World Health Organization. 


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