Laboratory abnormalities in children with novel coronavirus disease 2019

Brandon Michael Henry 1 , Giuseppe Lippi 2 ,  and Mario Plebanihttp://orcid.org/https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0270-1711 3
  • 1 Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, The Heart Institute, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, 3333 Burnet Avenue, Cincinnati, USA
  • 2 Section of Clinical Biochemistry, Department of Neuroscience, Biomedicine and Movement, University of Verona, Verona, Italy
  • 3 Department of Laboratory Medicine, University Hospital of Padova, Padova, Italy
Brandon Michael Henry
  • Corresponding author
  • Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, The Heart Institute, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, 3333 Burnet Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45229, USA
  • Email
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
, Giuseppe Lippi
  • Section of Clinical Biochemistry, Department of Neuroscience, Biomedicine and Movement, University of Verona, Verona, Italy
  • Search for other articles:
  • degruyter.comGoogle Scholar
and Mario PlebaniORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0270-1711

To the Editor,

The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a cause of respiratory and systemic illness, continues to progress toward global pandemic. As of March 6, 2020, the World Health Organization has reported over 98,000 confirmed cases globally, with as many as 3380 related deaths [1]. However, there has been a limited number of reported COVID-19 cases in children and adolescents [2].

In a report of 44,672 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China, only 2.1% were in those ≤19 years of age [3]. Although the reason for this remains unknown, a similar epidemiologic pattern has been observed in the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreaks [4], [5], [6]. Moreover, like in both MERS and SARS, milder symptoms and less hospitalizations are reported in children as compared to adults [2], [4], [5], [6].

Nonetheless, severe illness has been observed in 2.5% of pediatric cases, and mortality in children and adolescents has also been reported [2]. To date, there is limited data on children available in the literature. Moreover, most studies on this patient group have been published in Chinese, perpetuating a knowledge deficit among the pediatric health community at large.

The etiological diagnosis of COVID-19 encompasses real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR), which allows direct identification of viral RNA in nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs. Importantly, neither quantitative rRT-PCR can provide data on disease severity, whereby no clear association has been found between viral load and individual clinical phenotype. However, laboratory medicine proffers more than etiological diagnosis and disease surveillance, and may provide insights into evaluating disease severity, assessing prognosis, and therapeutic monitoring [7]. Moreover, laboratory data may provide hints to underlying pathophysiology and the body’s immunological response. In this article, we aimed to provide a concise overview of laboratory abnormalities in children and adolescents with COVID-19.

We performed an electronic search of PubMed (MEDLINE), CNKI (China National Knowledge Infrastructure), WanFang, and the Chinese Medical Journal Network through March 5, 2020 for case reports or case series reporting laboratory data in symptomatic or asymptomatic children and adolescents (0–≤19 years of age) with confirmed COVID-19. No language restrictions were applied. Search terms included the keywords: “coronavirus”, “COVID-19”, “SARS-CoV-2”, “pediatrics”, “neonates”, “infants”, “children”, and “adolescents”. Articles were screened by title, abstract, and full text for pediatric laboratory data. Articles in Chinese were screened by a healthcare professional fluent in both Chinese and English. When data describing laboratory data in pediatric patients were identified, the article was translated to English to enable data collection. If an article reported laboratory data in both children and adults, it was included only if the pediatric case data were able to be retrieved. The references of all included articles were searched to identify additional studies.

A total of 1189 studies were identified in the search, of which 1180 were excluded following study screening as they did not report relevant data. Two articles reported data in adult patients, but in which one pediatric case was retrievable [8], [9]. One additional article was found by reference search. As such, a total of 12 articles were included with a total sample size of n=66 pediatric patients [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17], [18], [19]. The age of patients ranged from 2 weeks to 17 years. Females accounted for 54.5% of cases. Symptoms were present in 72.7% of cases, whilst radiologic abnormalities were observed in 53.0%. A summary of findings is shown in Table 1.

Table 1:

Characteristics of the included studies.

CharacteristicsCai et al. [10]Cai et al. [11]Chen et al. [12]Feng et al. [13]Wang et al. [15]Zeng et al. [17]Zhang et al. [16]Liu et al. [8]Kam et al. [14]Chan et al. [9]Zhang et al. [18]Zhao et al. [19]
LocationChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaSingaporeChinaChinaChina
Number of cases101115311111121
Age, rangeMedian: 6 years (3 months–11 years)7 years13 months12 yearsMedian: 7 years (6 months–17 years)2 weeks3 months7 years6 months10 years14 months (twins)13 years
Males, %4010010033.348.410001001001000100
Symptomatic, %1001001002087.110010010000100100
Radiologic abnormalities, %401001006045.2100100100010050100
Laboratory data
 Leukocytes↑30%, ↓10%↑100%↑100%↓46.7%↑9.7%, ↓6.5%↓100%↑100%
 Neutrophils↑10%, ↓30%NR↑100%NRNRNRNR↓100%NR↓100%
 Lymphocytes↑10%NRNR↑12.9%, ↓6.5%NRNRNRNR
 Platelets↑20%, ↓10%↑0%, ↓100%NR↑6.5%↑100%↑100%↓100%↑100%
 HemoglobinNR↓100%NRNRNRNR
 CRP↑30%↑100%↑100%NR↑9.7%, NR 3.2%NR↑50%
 PCT↑100%NR↑12.9%, NR 9.7%↑100%NRNR↑50%
 ESRNRNRNRNR↑12.9%, NR 32.3%NRNRNRNRNRNR
 AlbuminNRNRNRNRNRNRNRNRNR
 ALT↑10%NRNR↑22%NRNRNR
 AST↑20%NRNR↑22%NRNRNR↑100%
 BilirubinNRNRNRNRNRNRNRNRNRNR
 CreatinineNR↑100%NRNRNRNRNR
 Creatine kinase↑50%↑100%↑100%NR↑12.9%, NR 12.9%NRNR↑100%NRNRNR
 LDH↑30%NRNRNRNRNRNR↑100%NR↑100%
 D-dimer↑20%NRNR↑6.5%NRNRNRNRNRNR
 Urea↓30%NR↑100%NRNRNRNRNRNRNR

Data are presented as percent of patients with abnormalities defined by local reference ranges. ↔, 100% within the normal reference range; NR, not reported; CRP, C-reactive protein; PCT, procalcitonin; ESR, erythrocyte sedimentation rate; ALT, alanine transaminase; AST, aspartate transaminase; LDH, lactate dehydrogenase.

No consistent derangements were observed in leukocyte indices. A normal leukocyte count was found in 69.6%, with 15.2% having an increased count and 15.2% a decreased count relative to the locally defined reference limits. The majority of patients had normal neutrophil counts, with only 4.6% above the normal range and 6.0% below the normal range. On the contrary, it was noted in a review of adult labs that increased leukocyte and neutrophil counts were common in patients with unfavorable COVID-19 progression [20]. While minimal data on severe cases of children were available for analysis, in Cai et al. [10], which provided individual patient data in 10 symptomatic children, only one of the three cases that had alternations in leukocyte or neutrophil counts also had radiologic changes suggestive of pneumonia.

Only 3.0% (n=2) infants experienced lymphopenia. Both were from the study by Wang et al. [15], which included only patients with mild, moderate, or asymptomatic disease. The lack of significant lymphopenia may in part explain the limited number of severe COVID-19 in children. Yang et al. [21] reported that 80% of critically ill adult COVID-19 patients had lymphopenia, whereas Chen et al. [22] reported that only 25% of patients with mild COVID-19 had lymphopenia, suggesting that lymphopenia may correlate with severity of infection. In both SARS and MERS, lymphopenia was a predominant feature, due to a combination of viral particle-induced cytoplasmic damage and apoptosis [23], [24], [25]. In very young children, however, lymphopenia may not occur due to the relative immaturity of their immune system and differences in their immune response compared to adults [12], [26].

When comparing COVID-19 and SARS, significant differences are apparent with respect to alterations in leukocyte indices. In a summary of 80 laboratory-confirmed cases of SARS in children, leukopenia was observed in 47%, neutropenia in 52%, and lymphopenia in 46%. The dissimilarity in leukocyte aberrations between the variable, inconsistent changes in COVID-19 and the more consistent changes in SARS suggests an underlying difference in the immunologic response in children to each virus.

The inflammatory markers C-reactive protein (CRP) and procalcitonin (PCT) were elevated in 13.6% and 10.6% of cases, respectively. In the study by Cai et al. [10], two of the four patients with radiologic abnormalities had elevated CRP, with a third patient hovering 1 mg/L below the assay-specific cut-off. In adults, both CRP and PCT have been observed to be elevated in cases of unfavorable progression [20]. In a meta-analysis of adult COVID-19 patients, PCT was observed to be associated with a near 5-fold increase in risk of severe infection (OR: 4.76) [27]. While not observed in the presented cases, in children with viral lower respiratory tract infections in the intensive care unit (ICU), elevated PCT is strongly suggestive of bacterial co-infection [28].

Only one case report presented a clearly defined severe COVID-19 case in a 1-year-old child who presented with a 6-day history of vomiting and diarrhea, followed by a rapidly developing pneumonia [12]. Although no major leukocyte aberrations could be found, low natural killer (NK) cell count and high CRP values were observed throughout hospitalization. The authors suggested that the leukocyte indices in this case differed from those of severe adults due to the young age of the patient. Interestingly, interleukin-6 (IL-6) was significantly elevated in days 1–5 of hospitalization, and its trend followed that of CRP. IL-6 is reported to be elevated in other viral respiratory tract infections in children, and high IL-6 levels are associated with increased mortality in children <5 years of age with severe pneumonia necessitating mechanical ventilation [29], [30]. Further case reports are needed to evaluate the laboratory abnormalities and potential prognostic indicators in children with severe cases of COVID-19.

There are some limitations to our findings. All data were obtained through case reports and case series. Laboratory parameters of interest were not consistently reported. Only 10 reports were included, with a small total number of patients and no cases from outside of East Asia. Moreover, laboratory methods and reference ranges may have differed between centers and were not always clearly defined. Importantly, a lack of granularity of data prevents comparison of laboratory values between symptomatic and asymptomatic children or analysis based on severity of illness. Efforts should focus on this in the coming weeks and months.

In summary, and unlike in adults, consistent pattern of laboratory derangements has yet to be observed in children with confirmed COVID-19. The laboratory alternations reported in children with SARS are not consistent with the early observations in cases of COVID-19. We recommend clinicians to monitor lymphocyte count and CRP as signs for severe infection, while monitoring PCT for potential bacterial co-infection. IL-6 should be investigated as a potential prognostic indicator in severe COVID-19.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Maria Helena Santos de Oliveira and Wan Chin Hsieh from the Pediatric COVID-19 Open Data Analysis Group for their assistance in the collection of the presented data.

Research funding: None declared.

Author contributions: All the authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.

Competing interests: The funding organization(s) played no role in the study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the report for publication.

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    Lippi G, Plebani M. Laboratory abnormalities in patients with COVID-2019 infection. Clin Chem Lab Med 2020;58:1131–4

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    • Export Citation
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    Liu WJ, Zhao M, Liu K, Xu K, Wong G, Tan W, et al. T-cell immunity of SARS-CoV: implications for vaccine development against MERS-CoV. Antiviral Res 2017;137:82–92.

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    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
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    Chu H, Zhou J, Wong BH, Li C, Chan JF, Cheng ZS, et al. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus efficiently infects human primary T lymphocytes and activates the extrinsic and intrinsic apoptosis pathways. J Infect Dis 2016;213:904–14.

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    • PubMed
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    Gu J, Gong E, Zhang B, Zheng J, Gao Z, Zhong Y, et al. Multiple organ infection and the pathogenesis of SARS. J Exp Med 2005;202:415–24.

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    Lippi G, Plebani M. Procalcitonin in patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): a meta-analysis. Clin Chim Acta 2020. doi:.

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    Kotula JJ, Moore WS, Chopra A, Cies JJ. Association of procalcitonin value and bacterial coinfections in pediatric patients with viral lower respiratory tract infections admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther 2018;23:466–72.

    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 29.

    Chiaretti A, Pulitanò S, Barone G, Ferrara P, Romano V, Capozzi D, et al. IL-1β and IL-6 upregulation in children with H1N1 influenza virus infection. Mediators of Inflamm 2013; 2013. Article ID: 495848. doi: .

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    • Export Citation
  • 30.

    Nguyen Thi Dieu T, Pham Nhat A, Craig TJ, Duong-Quy S. Clinical characteristics and cytokine changes in children with pneumonia requiring mechanical ventilation. J Int Med Res 2017;45:1805–17.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation

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  • 1.

    World Health Organization. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report – 46. March 2020. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200306-sitrep-46-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=96b04adf_2. Accessed March 6, 2020.

  • 2.

    WHO-China Joint Mission. Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Geneva 2020. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/who-china-joint-mission-on-covid-19-final-report.pdf. Accessed March 1, 2020.

  • 3.

    The Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Emergency Response Epidemiology Team. The epidemiological characteristics of an outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) – China, 2020. CCDCW 2020;2:113–22.

  • 4.

    Stockman LJ, Massoudi MS, Helfand R, Erdman D, Siwek AM, Anderson LJ, et al. Severe acute respiratory syndrome in children. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2007;26:68–74.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 5.

    Memish ZA, Al-Tawfiq JA, Assiri A, AlRabiah FA, Al Hajjar S, Albarrak A, et al. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus disease in children. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2014;33:904–6.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 6.

    Thabet F, Chehab M, Bafaqih H, AlMohaimeed S. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus in children. Saudi Med J 2015;36:484–6.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 7.

    Lippi G, Plebani M. A modern and pragmatic definition of laboratory medicine. Clin Chem Lab Med 2018;56:1846–63

  • 8.

    Liu Y, Yang Y, Zhang C, Huang F, Wang F, Yuan J, et al. Clinical and biochemical indexes from 2019-nCoV infected patients linked to viral loads and lung injury. Sci China Life Sci 2020;63:364–74.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 9.

    Chan JF, Yuan S, Kok K-H, To KK, Chu H, Yang J, et al. A familial cluster of pneumonia associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating person-to-person transmission: a study of a family cluster. Lancet 2020;395:514–23.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 10.

    Cai J, Xu J, Lin D, Xu L, Qu Z, Zhang Y, et al. A case series of children with 2019 novel coronavirus infection: clinical and epidemiological features. Clin Infect Dis 2020. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 11.

    Cai JH, Wang XS, Ge YL, Xia AM, Chang HL, Tian H, et al. [First case of 2019 novel coronavirus infection in children in Shanghai]. Zhonghua Er Ke Za Zhi 2020;58:86–7.

    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 12.

    Chen F, Liu Z, Zhang F, Xiong RH, Chen Y, Cheng XF, et al. [First case of severe childhood novel coronavirus pneumonia in China]. Chin J Pediatr 2020;58:179–82.

  • 13.

    Feng K, Yun YX, Wang XF, Yang GD, Zheng YJ, Lin CM, et al. [Analysis of CT features of 15 children with 2019 novel coronavirus infection]. Zhonghua Er Ke Za Zhi 2020;58:E007.

    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 14.

    Kam K, Yung CF, Cui L, Lin Tzer Pin R, Mak TM, Maiwald M, et al. A well infant with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) with high viral load. Clin Infect Dis 2020. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 15.

    Wang D, Ju XL, Xie F, Lu Y, Li FY, Huang HH, et al. [Clinical analysis of 31 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus infection in children from six provinces (autonomous region) of northern China]. Zhonghua Er Ke Za Zhi 2020;58:E011.

  • 16.

    Zhang YH, Lin DJ, Xiao MF, Wang JC, Wei Y, Lei ZX, et al. [2019 Novel coronavirus infection in a three-month-old baby]. Zhonghua Er Ke Za Zhi 2020;58:182–4.

  • 17.

    Zeng L, Tao X, Yuan W, Wang J, Liu X, Liu Z. [China’s first neonatal coronavirus pneumonia]. Chin J Pediatr 2020;58.

  • 18.

    Zhang G, Zjang A, Huang L, et al. [Twin girls infected with SARS-CoV-2]. Chin J Contemp Pediatr 2020;22:221–5.

  • 19.

    Zhao R, Shen X, Yu K, Sheng. [A case of children with 2019 novel Coronavirus Infection]. Zhejiang Med J 2020.

  • 20.

    Lippi G, Plebani M. Laboratory abnormalities in patients with COVID-2019 infection. Clin Chem Lab Med 2020;58:1131–4

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 21.

    Yang X, Yu Y, Xu J, et al. Clinical course and outcomes of critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a single-centered, retrospective, observational study. Lancet Respir Med 2020. doi:10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30079-5.

  • 22.

    Chen N, Zhou M, Dong X, Qu J, Gong F, Han Y, et al. Epidemiological and clinical characteristics of 99 cases of 2019 novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a descriptive study. Lancet 2020;395:507–13.

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • 23.

    Liu WJ, Zhao M, Liu K, Xu K, Wong G, Tan W, et al. T-cell immunity of SARS-CoV: implications for vaccine development against MERS-CoV. Antiviral Res 2017;137:82–92.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 24.

    Chu H, Zhou J, Wong BH, Li C, Chan JF, Cheng ZS, et al. Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus efficiently infects human primary T lymphocytes and activates the extrinsic and intrinsic apoptosis pathways. J Infect Dis 2016;213:904–14.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 25.

    Gu J, Gong E, Zhang B, Zheng J, Gao Z, Zhong Y, et al. Multiple organ infection and the pathogenesis of SARS. J Exp Med 2005;202:415–24.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 26.

    Klein SL, Flanagan KL. Sex differences in immune responses. Nat Rev Immunol 2016;16:626–38.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 27.

    Lippi G, Plebani M. Procalcitonin in patients with severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): a meta-analysis. Clin Chim Acta 2020. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 28.

    Kotula JJ, Moore WS, Chopra A, Cies JJ. Association of procalcitonin value and bacterial coinfections in pediatric patients with viral lower respiratory tract infections admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. J Pediatr Pharmacol Ther 2018;23:466–72.

    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
  • 29.

    Chiaretti A, Pulitanò S, Barone G, Ferrara P, Romano V, Capozzi D, et al. IL-1β and IL-6 upregulation in children with H1N1 influenza virus infection. Mediators of Inflamm 2013; 2013. Article ID: 495848. doi: .

    • Crossref
    • Export Citation
  • 30.

    Nguyen Thi Dieu T, Pham Nhat A, Craig TJ, Duong-Quy S. Clinical characteristics and cytokine changes in children with pneumonia requiring mechanical ventilation. J Int Med Res 2017;45:1805–17.

    • Crossref
    • PubMed
    • Export Citation
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