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Cleveland hospitals see decrease in child illnesses like asthma during pandemic

Seeing increase in child obesity, coronavirus cases
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Posted at 12:06 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 12:28:23-05

CLEVELAND — The pandemic has thrown a lot of curveballs at the healthcare system. And one of them is what health trends doctors in Northeast Ohio are seeing when it comes to children.

Certain illnesses are seeing a spike while others, like asthma, are controlled in a way we haven’t seen before.

Dr. Abdulla Ghori has been a pediatrician for 38 years, the majority of his time spent at MetroHealth Medical Center. He’s also a professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University.

Ghori said that over the last 10 months since the COVID-19 pandemic began, their pediatric clinics have seen a significant drop in asthma, ear infections, rashes, bug bites, injuries and seasonal illnesses like hand-foot-mouth disease.

“Probably saw less than a handful [of hand-foot-mouth]. Whereas I would see a handful every day in the past. That’s how significant the drop was,” Ghori said.

And, he said, they found that the decrease is not because kids are getting sick and not seeking care — but because they seem to be healthier and disease spreading through daycares and school settings has been lowered because of social isolation.

What they are seeing is a sharp increase in child obesity.

“Because they’re constantly in front of the computer for virtual learning, they don’t walk to school, no gym at school, the weather is bad,” Ghori said.

He said he’s concerned because like so many know, gaining weight is easy — losing it can be much harder.

And for kids, long-term consequences can include diabetes, kidney and heart problems, cholesterol issues.

At University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, a similar story — asthma and seasonal illnesses are down but there, they are seeing more kids with coronavirus.

“We are seeing increasing numbers in Northeast Ohio without a doubt,” said Dr. Charles Macias, who runs the pediatric emergency medicine department.

From 2.2% early in the pandemic to a positivity rate now of upwards of 25%, he said.

Fortunately, doctors say the hospitalization and mortality rates are much lower than what we’re seeing in adults.

Macias said they have seen an increase in cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children with coronavirus and still, 10-plus months into the pandemic and physicians say, they’re still learning more every day.

“What are going to be the long-term effects in terms of heart, in terms of lungs, in terms of neurologic systems. these are things that are unknowns for us,” said Dr. Princess Ogbogu, chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Rainbow Babies and Children’s.

This is why they say it’s crucial to keep focusing on prevention that they know works.

You’ve heard it countless times by now: mask-wearing, hand washing, social distancing — especially for our kids.