JOHANNESBURG — Data from a region in South Africa hit hard by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has a higher number of hospitalizations of infants under the age of 2, raising concerns that the variant poses a risk to young children. can cause.

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South African scientists have said they are yet to confirm a link between omicrons and higher penetration of infants, which may be due to other factors. Here’s what we do and don’t know about the issue.

What is the cause of concern?

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Data released by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) showed that 52 infants under the age of 2 were among 452 COVID-19 patients admitted to Tshwane – the metropolitan area that includes the capital Pretoria. Includes – in the period between November. 14 and 28, higher numbers than any other age group.

However, taking into account the size of the population of different age groups, the risk of admission was higher for those over 60 years of age.

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Are admissions linked to Omicron?

No. Only a small percentage of samples testing positive in South Africa are being submitted for genomic sequencing to detect diversity due to limited capacity. That means we can’t know for sure whether babies in hospital were infected with Omicron, NICD scientists have said.

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Scientists said there is also uncertainty about whether all the infants included in the data are infected with COVID-19, as not all are tested for the virus.

For practical reasons, babies who show respiratory symptoms are treated as if they have COVID-19, but may become ill with another illness, such as the flu.

How sick were the admitted infants?

The data shows that 29% of COVID-19 admissions in the 0 to 4 age group had serious illness – a proportion similar to many other age groups, and significantly less than the percentage of severe illness in patients over 60.

According to statistics, among people 4 or younger, 1% of admission resulted in death. However, the total number of admissions in that group was 70, making it unclear what the 1% figure represents.

NICD did not respond to a query from Reuters about that and other elements of the data, saying it would release a new report on pediatric admissions later this week.

Should we be concerned about a possible Omicron link?

Asked whether people should be concerned with infant admission numbers, Anne von Gottberg, clinical microbiologist at NICD, told Reuters: “Not yet.”

“It seems that in fact some of those penetrations may have started before the emergence of Omicron,” she said. “We’re quite concerned that we’re looking at the data very carefully, but at the moment I’m not sure we can definitively link it to Omicron.”

What else could happen?

In Gauteng province, where Tshwane is located, there has been an increase in flu cases over the past month.

“We need to be really careful to look at other respiratory infections and diseases to figure out why kids were being admitted. Were they being tested because they were being admitted or was it Was it a precaution?” Von Gottberg said.

NICD scientists also said that parents of sick children and infants were quick to bring them to the hospital, while patients in other age groups were less likely to arrive early.

When will we know?

NICD said it is preparing a report on pediatric admissions which should be available by the end of the week.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that it expects to have data on the transmissibility of Omicron within a few days, but scientists said it could take two to four weeks to learn more about this variant.