Feb. 22, 2022
Pediatric emergency room visits dropped overall during the COVID-19 pandemic but went up sharply in certain categories, such as firearms injuries and drug poisonings, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Among adolescents aged 12-17, ER visits went up for self-harm and eating disorders.
The impact of the pandemic on adults may be partly to blame. "Factors affecting caregivers, including unavailable or unpredictable childcare, illness, financial hardship, and mental health concerns, might increase children and adolescents' vulnerabilities," the CDC report said.
The CDC examined information from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program for March 2020 to around the end of 2020, the whole year of 2021, and the first month of January 2022. That information was compared to 2019 and evaluated by total visits and diagnoses among three different age groups: up to 4 years old, 5–11, and 12–17.
COVID-19 visits went up across all ages, but visits for other respiratory visits went down.
Among children 4 and under, cannabis-related ER visits rose by 8 per week in 2020 and 15 visits per week in 2021, compared to 2019. For that age group, firearm-related visits went up by 3 per week in 2020 and 2 per week in 2021, compared to 2019.
Among children 5-11, marijuana-related visits went up by 4 per week in 2020 and 9 per week in 2021, compared to 2019. In 2021, ER visits went up by 2 per week for firearm injuries, 6 per week for self-harm, and 7 per week for drug poisonings, compared to 2019.
Among children 12-17, ER visits for self-harm went up 30 per week in 2020, 210 per week in 2021, and 207 in January 2022, compared to 2019. For drug poisonings, ER visits went up by 12 per week in 2020, 171 per week in 2021, and 178 per week during January 2022, compared to 2019. For eating disorders, ER visits went up 9 per week in 2020, 41 per week in 2021, and 38 per week in January 2022, compared to 2019.
But overall, fewer children visited the ER. Compared to 2019, overall ER visits went down 51% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and 23% during January 2022.
“Health care providers and families should remain vigilant for potential indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including health conditions resulting from delayed care, and increasing emotional distress and behavioral health concerns among children and adolescents,” the CDC said.
The authors of the report cited several limitations, including that the data analyzed may not represent the pediatric population nationally.