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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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SARS May be Milder in Children

Children with SARS Develop Less Serious Illness

WebMD Health News

April 29, 2003 -- Children with SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) may develop a less aggressive form of the disease and be less likely to infect others compared with adults. A new report from Hong Kong researchers suggests younger children develop a milder illness and are more likely to recover quickly than teenagers and adults.

The study, published in the April 29 issue of The Lancet, is based on the experiences of the first 10 children who were diagnosed with SARS in Hong Kong from March 13 to 28 and admitted to hospitals.

Researchers say most information about SARS has been based on how the disease affects adults, but relatively little is known about how SARS affects children.

All of the children in the study were in close contact with SARS-infected adults and had initial SARS symptoms similar to those in adults: fever, cough, a depleted immune system, and X-ray results that suggested pneumonia. But researchers say there were two different patterns of symptoms that varied according to age.

Teenage SARS patients experienced symptoms such as malaise, muscle pain, chills, and muscle rigidity that were similar to those in adults. But younger children, ranging in age from 1 and a half to 7 years old, generally developed more cold-like symptoms consisting mainly of cough and runny nose. None of the younger children experienced the muscle-related symptoms or chills.

The course of illness was also much milder and shorter among younger patients, and they recovered more quickly than the teenagers, who ranged in age from 13 to 16.

Researchers say short-term treatment with a high dose of the antiviral drug ribavirin together with steroids proved effective and produced no significant side effects in the children.

The study found that eight of the 10 children had been attending school when they developed SARS symptoms, but there was no evidence that they had spread the infection to their classmates.

"This finding is in sharp contrast to the experience reported among adults that SARS carries a very high infectivity rate," write researcher K. L. E. Hon, and colleagues of the department of pediatrics at Prince of Wales Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong.

Researchers say that at the time of their report, none of the 30 children who were suspected as having SARS had died of the disease in Hong Kong while 22 adults had died of SARS. They say their findings suggest the disease may pose less of a threat to children and teenagers than adults.

Currently, more than 5,000 SARS cases worldwide have been reported to the World Health Organization, including more than 300 deaths.

SOURCE: The Lancet, April 29, 2003.

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