Dr. Jessica Snowden Arkansas Children's Hospital

As of Oct. 17, 134 children in Arkansas had been hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the Fay Boozman College of Public Health of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Arkansas Children’s Hospital has admitted 105 children who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, though some of them were admitted for reasons other than the coronavirus, spokesperson Hilary DeMillo said.

Dr. Jessica Snowden, an infectious disease pediatrician at Children’s, noted the number of children hospitalized at ACH has been a “tiny sliver” of the nearly 14,000 children infected with the novel coronavirus to date, but the cases are being carefully followed and data collected to build on the knowledge of how the virus affects children and how best to treat them.

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“One of the things we want to keep an eye on is how it evolves in kids,” Snowden said in a recent interview. Many present with COVID pneumonia, stomachache and fever. The hospital has also admitted children suffering from multi-system inflammatory syndrome, a potentially fatal disease that can develop weeks after children are exposed to or infected with the coronavirus. The disease can damage the heart and kidneys and cause blood clots. Doctors suspect that children who develop the disease have “an immune system primed to overreact,” she said.

No one 17 or younger has died of COVID-19 in Arkansas, according to the state Department of Health.

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In an abundance of caution, many pediatric COVID-19 patients are placed in intensive care, where children may isolate and where there is ready access to nurses and respiratory care, Snowden said. Some children will have to spend a week or more in the hospital. “The important reason to have someplace like Arkansas Children’s is experts in ICU can talk to you about this gray area we’re in right now,” the doctor said.

Like adults, it takes several weeks for children to fully recover and feel back to normal, though perhaps not as long as it takes adults, Snowden said. “People underestimate how long they’re going to feel wiped out,” the doctor said.

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Pediatric patients are receiving the same therapies as adults, including the antiviral drug remdesivir, steroids and IV infusions of immunoglobulin. Their efficacy in children is “very fortunate,” Snowden said, given the experimental nature of COVID-19 treatment. Snowden said Children’s has received permission to use convalescent plasma, but has not made use of the transfusion therapy.

Before providing treatment, doctors discuss with parents what drugs they plan to use to address their child’s COVID-19 symptoms. Sometimes, Snowden said, doctors have to battle disinformation that parents have received. “It’s a lot for parents to wrap their minds around.”

Every child admitted to Children’s is tested for the virus, and any child brought to the emergency room with symptoms, such as cough, trouble breathing and a loss of smell and taste, will be tested. Children tend not to run a fever with the virus, Snowden said.

Snowden works with school nurses to help them identify cases. She said symptoms, such as coughs, should not be dismissed — as in “Oh, it’s just my allergies” — even though they may be common ailments in children and adults. “We all need to behave,” she said, follow public health guidelines and act as if we are able to infect someone though we feel healthy.

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The virus is “definitely adding a burden” to Children’s Hospital, Snowden said. “Our team is full of superheroes, from environmental services to leadership and everyone in between. It’s undeniably a burden. It’s very stressful, where we have people argue with us us in a way they don’t typically argue with us.”

It’s important that parents feel fully involved in their child’s therapy in what is a “unique environment where there is controversy,” Snowden said. But, she said, “we’re all figuring this out together.”