The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on presentation of surgical disease in paediatric patients at a tertiary centre in Cape Town, South Africa
Background: Children are less susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2 and subsequent severe disease, yet especially vulnerable to the indirect effects of the pandemic. A constrained healthcare service, combined with the societal and behavioural changes observed during the pandemic, is likely to have altered the presentation of paediatric surgical disease. The objective was to investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the volume of paediatric surgical admissions, the severity of disease and the type of surgical pathology treated at our centre.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study compared paediatric surgical admissions in an eleven-month period before COVID-19 to the same period during the pandemic. Comparisons in volume and diagnoses were based on the number of admissions. Predetermined criteria for severity of disease using triage scores, intraoperative findings and intensive care admissions were compared.
Results: A total of 1 810 admissions were recorded, 1061 in the pre-COVID group and 749 during COVID. Emergency admissions reduced by 9.2%, most notably due to a reduction in trauma, caustic ingestions and constipation. There was an increase in incarcerated inguinal hernias and helminth-related pathologies. Significantly more intussusceptions failed pneumatic reduction requiring surgical intervention with bowel resection. There was a two-fold increase in patients requiring emergency intensive care.
Conclusion: Paediatric surgical volumes at our centre decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was evidence of more advanced disease on presentation of inguinal hernias and intussusception and a generalised increased demand for emergency ICU admission.
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