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Head injuries in children requiring hospitalisation two-fold higher during COVID-19

Rod Tucker
23 May, 2022  

Head injuries leading to hospitalisation in children significantly increased during the COVID-19 period compared with pre-pandemic levels

Head injuries in children, and which resulted in hospitalisation, were more than two-fold higher during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with pre-pandemic levels, although the use of CT head scans was not appreciably different. This was the conclusion of a retrospective study by researchers from John Hopkin’s University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

Head injuries in children are a common cause for hospitalisation with a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention citing that in the US in 2016, 8.3% of boys and 5.6% of girls aged 3 –17 years had ever had a significant head injury in their lifetime. Head injuries are damage to the scalp, skull, or brain caused by trauma and in cases where this affects the brain, it is referred to as a traumatic brain injury. The most common causes of such head injuries are falls although other causes in older children are related to sports injuries or even motor vehicle accidents. Little is known about how the pandemic has impacted upon the incidence of head injuries in during during the pandemic although some work based on neuro-trauma admissions observed that while there was a decline in the number of head injury admissions during the pandemic, the severity of the injuries actually increased. However, no studies have compared the level of presentation during COVID-19 with the years prior to the pandemic.

For the present analysis, the US team retrospectively examined the proportion of emergency department visits for head injury in children and the severity of those injuries between March 2020 to June 2020. These data were then compared with data from between March 2019 – June 2019, i.e., pre-pandemic levels. For the analysis, researchers included anyone aged 0 to 21 and set the primary outcomes of interest as the presence of a medically attended head injury, hospital admission for the injury and the need for CT head scanning.

Head injuries in children and hospitalisations

There were a total of 8616 patients with a mean age of 7.4 years (51.4% male) seen with a head injury at the emergency department during the COVID-19 pandemic. This compared with 19,083 visits in the same period during 2019. Overall, there was a significant increase in the proportion of visits during COVID-19 (6.4% vs 5.5%, p = 0.004), for a head injury in children, giving an odds ratio (OR) of 1.2 (95% CI 1.1 – 1.4), even though the absolute number of visits was lower (1058 vs 553, pre-covid vs covid).

In addition, the proportion of visits requiring hospitalisation was more than two-fold higher (OR = 2.3, 95% CI 1.3 – 4.3), which was more likely in male patients (OR = 1.58). However, the need for a CT head scan was not significantly different (OR = 1.04, 955 CI 0.70 – 1.60). Interestingly, there was a lower level of hospital admissions associated with children aged < 2 years (OR = 0.3, 95% CI 0.2 – 0.6) which suggested that head injuries in this age group were less severe.

The authors concluded by suggesting that the higher level of head injuries in children observed during the pandemic period were potentially due to changes in certain factors including supervision and risk exposure in the home.

Satoskar S et al. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on pediatric emergency department utilization for head injuries J Investig Med 2022