A team of pulmonologists has synthesized the clinical and imaging characteristics of COVID-19 in children, and has devised recommendations for ordering imaging studies in suspected cases of the infection.
The review also included useful radiographic findings to help in the differential diagnosis of COVID-19 pneumonia from other respiratory infections. Alexandra M. Foust, DO, of Boston Children’s Hospital, and colleagues reported the summary of findings and recommendations in Pediatric Pulmonology.
“Pediatricians face numerous challenges created by increasing reports of severe COVID-19 related findings in affected children,” said Mary Cataletto, MD, of NYU Langone Health in Mineola, N.Y. “[The current review] represents a multinational collaboration to provide up to date information and key imaging findings to guide chest physicians caring for children with pneumonia symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Clinical presentation in children
In general, pediatric patients infected with the virus show milder symptoms compared with adults, and based on the limited evidence reported to date, the most common clinical symptoms of COVID-19 in children are rhinorrhea and/or nasal congestion, fever and cough with sore throat, fatigue or dyspnea, and diarrhea.
As with other viral pneumonias in children, the laboratory parameters are usually nonspecific; however, while the complete blood count (CBC) is often normal, lymphopenia, thrombocytopenia, and neutropenia have been reported in some cases of pediatric COVID-19, the authors noted.
The current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation for initial diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 is obtaining a nasopharyngeal swab, followed by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing, they explained.
Role of imaging in diagnosis
The researchers reported that current recommendations from the American College of Radiology (ACR) do not include chest computed tomography (CT) or chest radiography (CXR) as a upfront test to diagnose pediatric COVID-19, but they may still have a role in clinical monitoring, especially in patients with a moderate to severe disease course.
The potential benefits of utilizing radiologic evaluation, such as establishing a baseline for monitoring disease progression, must be balanced with potential drawbacks, which include radiation exposure, and reduced availability of imaging resources owing to necessary cleaning and air turnover time.
Recommendations for ordering imaging studies
Based on the most recent international guidelines for pediatric COVID-19 patient management, the authors developed an algorithm for performing imaging studies in suspected cases of COVID-19 pneumonia.
The purpose of the tool is to support clinical decision-making around the utilization of CXR and CT to evaluate pediatric COVID-19 pneumonia.
“The step by step algorithm addresses the selection, sequence and timing of imaging studies with multiple images illustrating key findings of COVID-19 pneumonia in the pediatric age group,” said Dr. Cataletto. “By synthesizing the available imaging case series and guidelines, this primer provides a useful tool for the practicing pulmonologist,” she explained.
Key recommendations: CXR
“For pediatric patients with suspected or known COVID-19 infection with moderate to severe clinical symptoms requiring hospitalization (i.e., hypoxia, moderate or severe dyspnea, signs of sepsis, shock, cardiovascular compromise, altered mentation), CXR is usually indicated to establish an imaging baseline and to assess for an alternative diagnosis,” they recommended.
“Sequential CXRs may be helpful to assess pediatric patients with COVID-19 who demonstrate worsening clinical symptoms or to assess response to supportive therapy,” they wrote.
Key recommendations: CT
“Due to the increased radiation sensitivity of pediatric patients, chest CT is not recommended as an initial diagnostic test for pediatric patients with known or suspected COVID-19 pneumonia,” they explained.
The guide also included several considerations around the differential diagnosis of COVID-19 pneumonia from other pediatric lung disorders, including immune-related conditions, infectious etiologies, hematological dyscrasias, and inhalation-related lung injury.
As best practice recommendations for COVID-19 continue to evolve, the availability of practical clinical decision-making tools becomes essential to ensure optimal patient care.
No funding sources or financial disclosures were reported in the manuscript.
SOURCE: Foust AM et al. Pediatr Pulmonol. 2020 May 28. doi: 10.1002/ppul.24870.