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Child COVID hospitalizations fall in Kansas City, but doctors say flu season may be miserable

Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., was the first to report a surge of children with serious respiratory illness in August.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3

Children’s Mercy doctors say declining COVID-19 cases in children means trick-or-treating is OK this year. But if kids and adults don’t get a flu shot, Kansas City could be in for a rough flu season.

The number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 is declining, following a surge of cases of the highly-transmissible delta variant over the summer that greatly affected kids.

Dr. Angela Myers, the Infectious Diseases Division Director at Children’s Mercy Hospital, said Tuesday that although numbers are going down, it is important for children to continue to wear masks in school and to get vaccinated.

“There's really good data that's come out for this school year already, too, that shows that in kids who are masked in school, there's very little transmission happening in schools, it’s mostly happening out of schools, which was exactly the same as the data from last year," said Myers. "The difference this year is the data with the delta variant.”

A spokesperson for Children’s Mercy said as of Tuesday, they had nine COVID-19 patients — down from 14 the previous week.

The decline in COVID-19 cases for children comes just in time for Halloween. Guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allow for children to trick-or-treat outside in small groups, unlike last year. Dr. Myers said that if Halloween celebrations are indoors or in public areas, people should add a mask to their costume.

“Based on all the data we have and knowing that really the risk of getting infected while you’re outside is very, very low, kids should go out and do their trick and treating and get that sack full of candy with mom and dad,” Myers said. “But we still need to be thinking about avoidance of large, crowded indoor settings and then being masked when out in public.”

While healthcare professionals are feeling hopeful about pediatric coronavirus cases and a potential childhood vaccine, they’re worried about the upcoming flu season.

This summer, area hospitals saw an unexpected spike in pediatric respiratory syncytial virus, an upper chest infection also known as RSV. The early onset of that virus has doctors concerned over what this could mean for the flu season.

“We had a pretty rough summer, with RSV,” said Myers. “We hadn’t seen RSV since March of 2020, and then we had this huge surge of RSV this summer. I think there is reason to be concerned.”

According to Dr. Myers, Kansas City also had far fewer cases of influenza last year, so people don’t have the antibodies they need to combat it.

Myers said the good news is that there is a flu vaccine, and she urges children and adults to get vaccinated against the virus.

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