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Photo of Dr. Stephen Freedman. // Photo courtesy of RileyBrandt/University of Calgary.

UCalgary and global research to investigate COVID-19 effect on children

By Nikayla Goddard, March 26 2020 —

Most of the COVID-19 research that is published or in progress looks at the virus’ transmission, effect and outlook for infected adults. But a study led by UCalgary researcher Dr. Stephen Freedman and a team of international pediatric clinicians investigates what COVID-19 looks like for children.

“The goal of this study is to really get very granular data to identify predictors of COVID infection relative to other viruses,” Freedman said. “The other element that is also really important is to look at predictors of adverse outcomes or severe disease in children.”

Freedman is a professor of Child Health and Wellness at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, as well as a pediatric emergency medicine physician with Alberta Health Services and clinician-scientist in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health.

The study consists of a network of 50 pediatric institutions in 14 countries, including 8 sites in Canada such as the Alberta Children’s Hospital, approximately 20 in the United States, and sites in Australia, Italy, Spain, Argentina, France, Switzerland and some in Central America as well.

The study progresses through approaching all children tested for COVID-19, and if caregivers agree to participate, they disclose travel history and previous medical data in addition to clinical symptoms. They then collect and study examination findings and results of all investigations done as a part of their clinical care, including blood work, ultrasounds, scans and experimental treatments and medication provided. 

The study plans to recruit 12,500 children with a projection for 40 per cent of children to be infected. The remaining 60 per cent are children with other viruses such as influenza, or children with no infections to provide a baseline.

“Generally children seem to do quite well with infection, but there are some high risk groups and we want to identify those. With our large database, we want to be able to look at interventions that may be beneficial for children as well, and identify signals where we should be focussing our attention. The size of our cohort and the breadth of the countries will allow us to do that.”

The ultimate goal of the study is not just to gather information, but to allow that information to assist in decision-making processes. “The real goal is to share the data in real time with decision-makers and stakeholders,” Freedman explained. “Whether that be parents, health-care providers or public health agencies.”

This study is one of the 49 new COVID-19 research projects funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research with a total of 96 projects across the country.

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