Clinical epidemiology of COVID-19 among hospitalized children in rural western Kenya

PLOS Glob Public Health. 2023 Jun 14;3(6):e0002011. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgph.0002011. eCollection 2023.


The epidemiology of pediatric COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa and the role of fecal-oral transmission in SARS-CoV-2 are poorly understood. Among children and adolescents in Kenya, we identify correlates of COVID-19 infection, document the clinical outcomes of infection, and evaluate the prevalence and viability of SARS-CoV-2 in stool. We recruited a prospective cohort of hospitalized children aged two months to 15 years in western Kenya between March 1 and June 30 2021. Children with SARS-CoV-2 were followed monthly for 180-days after hospital discharge. Bivariable logistic regression analysis was used to identify the clinical and sociodemographics correlates of SARS-CoV-2 infection. We also calculated the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 detection in stool of confirmed cases. Of 355 systematically tested children, 55 (15.5%) were positive and were included in the cohort. The commonest clinical features among COVID-19 cases were fever (42/55, 76%), cough (19/55, 35%), nausea and vomiting (19/55, 35%), and lethargy (19/55, 35%). There were no statistically significant difference in baseline sociodemographic and clinical characteristics between SARS-CoV-2 positive and negative participants. Among positive participants, 8/55 (14.5%, 95%CI: 5.3%-23.9%) died; seven during the inpatient period. Forty-nine children with COVID-19 had stool samples or rectal swabs available at baseline, 9 (17%) had PCR-positive stool or rectal swabs, but none had SARS-CoV-2 detected by culture. Syndromic identification of COVID-19 is particularly challenging among children as the presenting symptoms and signs mirror other common pediatric diseases. Mortality among children hospitalized with COVID-19 was high in this cohort but was comparable to mortality seen with other common illnesses in this setting. Among this small set of children with COVID-19 we detected SARS-CoV-2 DNA, but were not able to culture viable SARs-CoV-2 virus, in stool. This suggests that fecal transmission may not be a substantial risk in children recently diagnosed and hospitalized with COVID-19 infection.