Despite nearly 10,000 minors testing positive for COVID-19 in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra in May, the administration on Tuesday stressed there was no cause for alarm as almost 95% of the cases were asymptomatic.
Ahmednagar District Collector, Rajendra Bhosale, said the district was adequately prepared to tackle a possible “third wave” of the pandemic, which is speculated to particularly affect children.
“In May, Ahmednagar reported over 86,000 COVID-19 cases, of whom 9,928 were minors [aged below 18 years]. This translates to around 11.5% of the total cases reported last month. Of these, 6,700 were in the 11-18 years age group, while more than 3,000 were in the 1-10 years category. However, since around 95% of them were asymptomatic, there is no cause for alarm,” said Mr. Bhosale.
However, considering the threat of a possible third wave, Mr. Bhosale said extra steps were being taken, such as increasing the number of in ICU beds in rural hospitals, mobilising paediatricians, local doctors, and ASHA (accredited social health activist) and Aanganwadi workers at tehsil and village levels.
Stating that predictions about children being hit in a possible third wave had no solid scientific basis, State Surveillance Officer, Dr. Pradeep Awate, urged parents across the State not to panic. “A prediction that more children will be affected in an anticipated ‘third wave’ is just that: a prediction. It is pointless for people to panic. The Association of Pediatricians has also made this clear,” said Dr. Awate.
He stressed that the current argument that as everyone over the age of 18 was getting vaccinated, a resurgence of the virus would infect more children had “no logical basis”.
“The Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP) has issued a detailed statement in this regard in which they have said that while a ‘third wave’ is possible, it is difficult to predict when it will come and how intense it will be. It must be emphasised that COVID-19 has been mild in 90% of the children and that the incidence of severe coronavirus is extremely low in them,” he said.
Dr. Awate contended that as young children did not develop the specific receptors needed for the virus to enter the body, they were unlikely to be affected by very serious illnesses.
Referring to the cases of COVID-19 in children in Ahmednagar district, he said, “Currently, headlines are being made in the media by stating the high number of COVID-19-affected children in the State or in a particular district. It must be noted that even during the last six months, the incidence of COVID-19 infections in children under five years of age has been around 1%-1.5% of the total number of patients per month.”
Dr. Awate said this figure had not changed even today and that the rate of infection in children was stable.
“There has been no increase in the rate of infection in children. Most importantly, even though young children are infected with COVID-19, they have a much lower risk of complications than adults. It has been observed that one out of every 10,000 children die from the virus and its complications. And these usually are children who have other high-risk illnesses and are more likely to develop COVID-19 related complications,” he said.
At the same time, Dr. Awate said it was just as well that preparations were on in full swing across districts to prevent any crisis during the third wave.
“While no preparation goes waste, it is also important not to create an atmosphere of fear among parents with young children and in society as a whole. Parents must not impose unnecessary restrictions on the child for fear of a ‘third wave’ and must not panic themselves,” he said.
Until recently, the district had been reporting a daily average of around 2,500 cases throughout the second wave. It is only in the past few days that the number has come down to around 900 daily cases. Ahmednagar currently has around 11,000 active cases and has reported more than 3,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in March last year.
Maharashtra Public Health Department on Tuesday said the State has not seen a dramatic rise in the number of child COVID-19 patients. It said that the percentage of minors losing life to the disease was 0.07% till May 2021.
The Department presented the data on minors since November 2020 to April 2021 for those who were infected. The percentage of those infected in the age-group of 0-5 years was 1.3%, that for 6-11 years was 2.4%, and 12 to 17 years was 4.1%, with the total being 7.8%.
According to officials from the Health Department, the percentage has remained in this range for all months. “The increase in absolute numbers is due to the increase in the total number of infections from all age groups,” the official said.
Commenting on the reports of the increase in number of infections among minors in Ahmednagar district, the Department said in March 2021, the total number of COVID-19 patients in the district was 18,669, out of which minors were 1,631 (8.74%). In April 2021, the total number of patients were 77,344, out of which minors were 7,607 (9.83%), and in May 2021, out of a total of 80,785 patients, the minors were 9,416 (11.65%).
As per the data, the percentage of minors getting infected by COVID-19 in November 2020 was 6.9% of the total infections. In December 2020 and January 2021, it was 6.3% and 6%, respectively. In February, March and April of 2021, the percentage was 7.26%, 6.78% and 8.38%, respectively.
Additional Chief Secretary (Public Health), Dr. Pradeep Vyas, said the State government has already formed a task force of pediatricians. “The state government is working at improving infrastructure at the hospital level and setting up the required machinery to combat the possible outbreak of the virus among minors,” he said.
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