Pediatric Hospitalizations for Abusive Head Trauma Decline During Pandemic

Contrary to expectations, there was a significant decline in hospitalizations for abusive head trauma among children aged younger than 5 years during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers reported in Pediatrics.

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 from abusive head trauma from Jan. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2020.

A total of 1,216,336 hospitalizations occurred among children aged younger than 5 years during that time, including 1,317 for abusive head trauma. Maassel and colleagues used the period of March 11 to Sept. 30 each year to compare characteristics and rates of admission.

Of the total hospitalizations for abusive head trauma, 750 occurred between March 11 and Sept. 20 — 127 (16%) in 2020 and 623 from 2017 to 2019, Maassel and colleagues reported. The researchers found that mean monthly admissions for the specified time period were lower in 2020 compared with the other 3 years (= 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 result in increased child abuse,” Maassel told Healio. “That our findings suggest the opposite should prompt clinician researchers to generate and test alternative hypotheses about actionable risk factors for child abuse.”

According the Maassel, the reason for the decline was not clear from the data. He suggested it may be due to a reduction of sole male caregivers at home, “given a disproportionate rise in joblessness for women during the pandemic.”

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