The Ebola virus that has lead to a devastating epidemic in West Africa is far more likely to be fatal in children under five than in adults, although the rate of infection is lower in children than adults, revealed an international team of scientists led by Imperial College London and the World Health Organization. Official figures suggest that as of March 2015, nearly 4,000 children under 16 years of age have been affected by Ebola in the current epidemic.
The research team analyzed data on Ebola cases in children under 16 years during the current outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and found that young children who get the disease have a lower chance of surviving it. The study found that Ebola has affected young children most severely, killing around 90% of children aged under a year and around 80% of children aged one to four years who are infected. Older children were found to be much more likely to survive the disease. It has killed 52% of infected children aged 10 to 15 years. For adults aged 16 to 44 years, the case fatality rate is 65%.
Researchers found that the incubation period, the time between becoming infected and showing symptoms, was 6.9 days in children under a year and 9.8 days in children aged 10 to 15. Younger children also had shorter times from the onset of symptoms to hospitalization and death. Researchers also found differences in the symptoms experienced by children. Children were more likely to have fever when they first visited a doctor, and less likely to have pain in the abdomen, chest, joints, or muscles; difficulty breathing or swallowing; or hiccups.
Christl Donnelly of the Imperial College London and a co-author of the study said, "These findings show that Ebola affects young children quite differently to adults, and it's especially important that we get them into treatment quickly. We also need to look at whether young children are getting treatment that's appropriate for their age."
The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine