Do pediatric emergency departments pose a risk of infection?

BMC Pediatr. 2011 Jan 7;11:2. doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-11-2.


Background: There is no data documenting the existence of a risk of infection transmission in ambulatory healthcare settings but concern remains. Our objective was to determine the risk of infection associated to a pediatric Emergency Department (ED) visit and the predictors of infection in children aged 5 years and less.

Methods: Children aged 5 years and less with an ED visit between February and April of a non pandemic season were recruited and followed-up by telephone interviews to ascertain the development of new respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Approximately half of the parents were called 7-10 days after their child's ED visit. The other half were called at least 14 days after the visit and served as the ED-unexposed group. The principal outcome was the onset of a new infection in the week preceding the phone interview, using standardized definitions. Proportions of children with new infections were calculated in both groups and logistic regression was used to adjust for potential confounders.

Results: A total of 304 children (mean age 2.4 years) were followed. Of the 137 children with a recent ED visit, 21 (15.3%) developed an infection compared to 39 of 167 (23.4%) of those without a recent visit. The relative risk (RR) associated with ED exposure was 0.7 (95%CI 0.4-1.1). As 85 children with a recent ED visit presented to the ED with a viral infection, we repeated the analysis excluding them to improve our capacity to detect new infections: 9 children (17.3%) developed an infection (RR = 0.7 [95%CI 0.4-1.4]). The only factor associated with an increased risk of infection was an intra-familial infectious contact (RR 9.9; 95%CI 1.7-58.9).

Conclusion: A visit to a pediatric ED does not result in a detectable increased risk of infection above the risk in the community. This is likely explained by the high baseline risk of infections in young children. However, we cannot eliminate the possibility that a risk of infection may still exist and would warrant a larger study to document.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Community-Acquired Infections / epidemiology
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Cross Infection / epidemiology*
  • Cross Infection / transmission
  • Disease Reservoirs*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Family Health
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gastroenteritis / epidemiology*
  • Hospitals, Pediatric*
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quebec / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / transmission
  • Risk
  • Surveys and Questionnaires