Comparison of influenza and COVID-19-associated hospitalizations among children < 18 years old in the United States-FluSurv-NET (October-April 2017-2021) and COVID-NET (October 2020-September 2021)

Clin Infect Dis. 2022 May 20;ciac388. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciac388. Online ahead of print.


Background: Influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2 are significant causes of respiratory illness in children.

Methods: Influenza and COVID-19-associated hospitalizations among children <18 years old were analyzed from FluSurv-NET and COVID-NET, two population-based surveillance systems with similar catchment areas and methodology. The annual COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate per 100 000 during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (October 1, 2020-September 30, 2021) was compared to influenza-associated hospitalization rates during the 2017-18 through 2019-20 influenza seasons. In-hospital outcomes, including intensive care unit (ICU) admission and death, were compared.

Results: Among children <18 years old, the COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate (48.2) was higher than influenza-associated hospitalization rates: 2017-18 (33.5), 2018-19 (33.8), and 2019-20 (41.7). The COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate was higher among adolescents 12-17 years old (COVID-19: 59.9; influenza range: 12.2-14.1), but similar or lower among children 5-11 (COVID-19: 25.0; influenza range: 24.3-31.7) and 0-4 (COVID-19: 66.8; influenza range: 70.9-91.5) years old. Among children <18 years old, a higher proportion with COVID-19 required ICU admission compared with influenza (26.4% vs 21.6%; p < 0.01). Pediatric deaths were uncommon during both COVID-19- and influenza-associated hospitalizations (0.7% vs 0.5%; p = 0.28).

Conclusions: In the setting of extensive mitigation measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate during 2020-2021 was higher among adolescents and similar or lower among children <12 years old compared with influenza during the three seasons before the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 adds substantially to the existing burden of pediatric hospitalizations and severe outcomes caused by influenza and other respiratory viruses.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; children; influenza; surveillance.