Differences are emerging between chest imaging findings in adults and children with COVID-19 pneumonia, according to a new international consensus statement published online April 23 in.
“Chest imaging plays an important role in evaluation of pediatric patients with COVID-19, however there is currently little information available describing imaging manifestations of pediatric COVID-19 and even less discussing utilization of imaging studies in pediatric patients,” write Alexandra M. Foust, DO, from the Department of Radiology, Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts, and colleagues.
The authors wrote the consensus statement to help clinicians evaluate children with potential COVID-19, interpret chest imaging findings, and determine the best treatment for these patients.
As a dedicated pediatric radiologist in tertiary care, senior author Edward Y. Lee, MD, MPH, also from Boston Children’s Hospital, said he works with many international pediatric chest radiologists, and the document provides an international perspective. Information on chest imaging for pediatric patients with COVID-19 is scarce, and clinicians are clamoring for information to inform clinical decisions, he said. He noted that the recommendations are practical and easy to use.
The first step in evaluating a child with suspected COVID-19 is to consider the larger clinical picture. “You really have to look at the patient as a person, and when you look at them, [consider] their underlying risk factors – some people we know are prone to have more serious infection from COVID-19 because they have underlying medical problems,” Lee said.
Certain findings on chest x-ray (CXR) are more specific for COVID-19 pneumonia, whereas CT is better for characterizing and confirming and for differentiating one lung infection from another, Lee explained.
Toward this end, the authors developed tables that provide standardized language to describe imaging findings in patients with suspected COVID-19 pneumonia. Advantages of this type of “structured reporting” include improved understanding and clarity between the radiologist and the ordering provider.
The authors note that structured reporting is likely to be most useful in regions where COVID-19 is highly prevalent. The COVID-19 imaging presentation in children overlaps with some other ailments, including influenza, e-cigarette vaping–associated lung injury, and eosinophilic lung disease. Thus, the use of structured reporting in low-incidence settings could lead to false positive findings.
Commonly seen CXR findings in children with COVID-19 pneumonia include bilaterally distributed peripheral and/or subpleural ground-glass opacities (GGOs) and/or consolidation. Nonspecific findings include “unilateral peripheral or peripheral and central ground-glass opacities and/or consolidation; bilateral peribronchial thickening and/or peribronchial opacities; and multifocal or diffuse GGOs and/or consolidation without specific distribution.”
On CT, commonly seen findings in pediatric COVID-19 pneumonia include “bilateral, peripheral and/or subpleural GGOs and/or consolidation in lower lobe predominant pattern; and ‘halo’ sign early” in the disease course. Indeterminate CT findings include “unilateral peripheral or peripheral and central GGOs and/or consolidation; bilateral peribronchial thickening and/or peribronchial opacities; multivocal or diffuse GGOs and/or consolidation without specific distribution; and ‘crazy paving’ sign.”
Initial chest imaging is not generally recommended for screening of symptomatic or asymptomatic children with suspected COVID-19, nor for children with mild clinical symptoms unless the child is at risk for disease progression or worsens clinically.
An initial CXR may be appropriate for children with moderate to severe clinical symptoms – regardless of whether they have COVID-19 – and the patient may undergo a chest CT if the results could influence clinical management.
A repeat reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test for COVID-19 should be considered for children with moderate to severe symptoms whose initial laboratory result was negative but whose chest imaging findings are consistent with COVID-19.
Chest imaging may be used as a first step in the workup for suspected COVID-19 patients in resource-constrained environments where rapid triage may be needed to spare other resources, such as hospital beds and staffing.
It may be appropriate to conduct sequential CXR examinations for pediatric patients with COVID-19 to assess therapeutic response, evaluate clinical worsening, or determine positioning of life support devices, according to the authors.
Post-recovery follow-up chest imaging is not recommended for asymptomatic pediatric patients after recovery from disease that followed a mild course. Post-recovery imaging may be appropriate for asymptomatic children who initially had moderate to severe illness; the decision should be based on clinical concern that the patient may develop long-term lung injury.
Post-recovery follow-up imaging may be appropriate for children whose symptoms persist or worsen regardless of initial illness severity.
Lee and coauthors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
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