As scientists gather more data on the super strain, there are suggestions it could be infecting children at a higher rate than before. Hospital admissions in children under five have reportedly surged in South Africa
As the new Omicron variant spreads across the UK, there are concerns it could be infecting children at a higher rate than before.
Hospital admissions in children under five have reportedly surged in South Africa, where experts say Omicron is now the dominant variant.
As scientists gather more data on the super strain, there are suggestions it could be infecting children at a higher rate than before, though medics say infections have been mild.
A health official has said the increase should not prompt panic as clinicians’ reports suggest the children have only “mild disease”.
A large number of children were admitted with coronavirus last month in Tshwane, the metropolitan area that includes the capital Pretoria, raising concerns that the newly identified Omicron could pose greater risks for young children than other variants.
This could, in part, be because children have not been offered the Covid vaccine as much as adults, if at all.
Children 12 years and under were not yet eligible for a jab in South Africa.
But mathematician and professor of operational research Prof Christina Pagel, who works at University College London, did not think the trend was a result of the vaccine programme.
Vaccination rates were low across all age bands in South Africa, she said.
“But it is worrying. Something has changed about the virus that is now affecting children under five, and we don’t know what it is,” she added.
Downing Street has said there is “no hard evidence” to suggest children are worse affected by the Omicron variant, according to Sun Online reports.
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It was not clear how the variant would behave and spread from country to country.
Up until now, children have been largely unaffected by the virus, only suffering mildly from the virus in the majority of cases.
It was not clear at this stage how the emergence of Omicron could change this.
Scientists are yet to determine what severity of illness is caused by the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month and since seen in more than 30 countries, and whether it may be more resistant to existing vaccines.
But an article by the South African Medical Research Council based on early observations at the Steve Biko/Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria over the last two weeks contained reassuring signs.
The common symptoms of Covid have altered slightly through the pandemic in response to new emerging variants as well as the vaccines.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association who first sounded the alarm about the Omicron variant, has claimed it causes different symptoms.
The main Omicron symptoms she had seen in young men, she said, were:
According to Dr Coetzee, who is also on the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, patients so far had not reported loss of smell or taste.
Meanwhile, public health specialist Ntsakisi Maluleke, who works in the Gauteng province, told Reuters that many patients were reporting “non-specific” flu-like symptoms such as a scratchy throat.
Ms Maluleke urged adults not to take flu-like symptoms lightly and to get tested with haste.
While she reassured children were more likely to suffer only “mild disease”, there has been mixed reporting around whether the new variant was causing mild or serious illness in children in South Africa.
Dr Rudo Mathivha, of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, said children were becoming more ill as a result of the virus than before.
“We are now seeing them [children] coming in with moderate to severe symptoms needing supplemental oxygen, needing supportive therapy, needing to stay in hospital for quite a number of days,” she said.
The NHS lists the three main symptoms of Covid in children and adults as:
a high temperature
a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot, for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
a loss or change to sense of smell or taste
Experts on the ZOE Covid Symptom Study app have urged parents to look for other common signs in children including:
loss of appetite
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.