Pediatric hospitalizations for abusive head trauma decline during pandemic

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Contrary to expectations, there was a significant decrease in hospital admissions for violent head trauma in children under age 5 during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers reported in Pediatrics.

Nathan Maassel

Nathan Maassel, MD, a surgical resident at Yale New Haven Hospital, and colleagues used data from 49 hospitals in the Pediatric Health Information System – a database of 51 children’s hospitals in the United States – to identify hospitalizations due to violent head trauma from January 1, 2017 through with September 30, 2020.

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During that period, a total of 1,216,336 hospital admissions took place in children under the age of 5, including 1,317 for violent head trauma. Maassel and colleagues used the period from March 11 to September 30 each year to compare characteristics and admission rates.

Of the total hospital admissions for violent head trauma, 750 occurred between March 11 and September 20 – 127 (16%) in 2020 and 623 from 2017 to 2019, Maassel and colleagues reported. The researchers found that the average monthly admissions for the specified period in 2020 were lower than in the other 3 years (P = 0.002 for 2019, 0.004 for 2018 and 0.007 for 2017).

“Many experts expected that the economic and social hardships faced by families during the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to increased child abuse,” Maassel told Healio. “That our findings suggest the opposite should prompt clinicians to generate and test alternative hypotheses about useful risk factors for child abuse.”

According to de Maassel, the reason for the decrease was not clear from the data. He suggested it may be due to a decrease in the number of male caregivers at home, “given a disproportionate increase in unemployment for women during the pandemic.”

“Previous research has shown that men, including fathers and mothers’ boyfriends, are the culprits in about 70% of cases of serious physical abuse in young children,” said Maassel.

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