The coronavirus is not sparing young people.

New Jersey statistics can prove it, and a study conducted in part by a medical professional at Rutgers and recently published in JAMA Pediatrics is the first to take a closer look at the characteristics of seriously ill pediatric COVID-19 patients in North America.

"While children are more likely to get very sick if they have other chronic conditions, including obesity, it is important to note that children without chronic illness are also at risk. Parents need to continue to take the virus seriously," said Lawrence Kleinman, chief of the Department of Pediatrics' Division of Population, Health, Quality and Implementation Science at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The study, co-authored by Kleinman, followed 48 individuals, from newborn to 21 years old, who were admitted to pediatric intensive care units in the U.S. and Canada for COVID-19 in March and April. The overwhelming majority had presented chronic underlying conditions, but nearly 1 in 5 were reported to have no underlying conditions when they were struck by the respiratory illness.

Three of the patients were being treated in New Jersey. Of the 48 patients, more than 20% experienced failure of two or more organ systems due to coronavirus, and nearly 40% required a breathing tube and ventilator. Two of the children admitted during the three-week study period died, researchers said.

"We found that most of the children were doing well in terms of going home from the hospital; some were still in the hospital at the time the study ended," Kleinman said.

What could not be recorded, however, was whether COVID-19 would lead to any other complications or long-lasting effects for these children.

During a COVID-19 news briefing on Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the state's first related death of a minor — a 4-year-old with underlying health conditions.

Hospitals throughout the state have been seeing an uptick in child cases of symptoms related to a rare inflammatory syndrome called Kawasaki disease, which may be linked to COVID-19 infections.

"The biggest worry is that Kawasaki disease can cause the inflammation of blood vessels, which can develop aneurysms in coronary arteries if not treated in time and lead to death," said David Cenmino, a pediatrics and infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. "Although there are no known origins and links between Kawasaki disease and a specific viral infection, COVID-19 may be triggering an abnormal immune response in some of these children presenting symptoms at hospitals."

While the data point to a real COVID-19 threat for children, young individuals appear to be impacted at a significantly lower rate than adults.

According to a May 11 update from the state Department of Health, less than 1% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New Jersey affect individuals aged 0 to 4. Minors aged 5 to 17 represent 1.7% of the state's confirmed cases.

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