U of M studies COVID-19’s impact on kids’ conditions

Research will be used to expand database on illnesses that affect children

Image provided by Dr. Terry Klassen

A University of Manitoba research project seeking to provide data on how COVID-19 and related conditions have affected children has received over $433,000 in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).  

The study will build on the work of the database and knowledge mobilization network Translating Emergency Knowledge for Kids (TREKK).  

The TREKK website and app provide parents and medical workers throughout Canada with evidence-based data and resources about over 50 subjects related to children’s health care.  

Established in 2011 with funding from the Networks of Centres of Excellence Knowledge Mobilization Initiative, TREKK’s goal is to ensure that Canadian children and families visiting emergency departments have access to the same data available at specialized pediatric hospitals.  

Dr. Terry Klassen, CEO and scientific director for the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, professor of pediatrics at the University of Manitoba and the lead investigator involved in the study, pointed out that though there are specialized children’s hospitals throughout the country, general emergency room doctors may not be as familiar with treating kids.  

“We have to realize, when we look at it overall in Canada, 85 per cent of the children who seek acute care or emergency care are actually going to general emergency departments, not the children’s hospitals that are in big cities,” Klassen said.  

He said that even though “all the fancy research” takes place in specialized children’s hospitals, health-care professionals need to ensure that the information is accessible to hospitals where more children are likely to be treated.  

In addition to researching 10 conditions relevant to COVID-19, the study will revise the resources available for ailments such as croup, asthma and bronchiolitis, and will add new data to the TREKK database on illnesses like pneumonia.  

Klassen said that the CIHR-funded study is a “grand opportunity” to examine the wider impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

He noted that although the direct impact of the virus on children is now well understood, “disease presentation patterns” have been changing in emergency departments, a phenomenon that the new study will explore.  

“At times during COVID, we almost saw none of the traditional breathing problems that children present with, like asthma or bronchiolitis or croup,” he explained.  

However, emergency rooms saw an increase in these respiratory problems when pandemic restrictions loosened.  

Klassen reasoned that some conditions such as diabetic complications may have gone unrecognized and worsened as families delayed seeking care.  

Statistics Canada found that nearly one in three Canadian adults who required health care in the first year of the pandemic delayed seeking assistance for fear of COVID exposure and overloading the health-care system.  

The study’s researchers will survey medical professionals and determine what new topics and information should be included in TREKK’s archive.  

They will also inquire with parents and children regarding what information they think emergency care providers should know, test the effectiveness of the new resources they develop and make any necessary changes.  

“I think it’s really important for us as an organization, TREKK, to try to ensure that children and those caring for them have the best evidence, the latest research, so that they will have the best outcomes,” he said, “and that’s really what it’s all about.”