RIO DE JANEIRO — Fretting over a fever in her toddler that wouldn’t break, the mother took the young girl, Letícia, to a hospital. Doctors had worrisome news: It was Covid-19.
But they were reassuring, noting that children almost never develop serious symptoms, said the mother, Ariani Roque Marinheiro.
Less than two weeks later, on Feb. 27, Letícia died in the critical care unit of the hospital in Maringá, in southern Brazil, after days of labored breathing.
“It happened so quickly, and she was gone,” said Ms. Marinheiro, 33. “She was everything to me.”
Covid-19 is ravaging Brazil, and, in a disturbing new wrinkle that experts are working to understand, it appears to be killing babies and small children at an unusually high rate.
scientists say are leading to more severe cases of Covid in young, healthy adults and driving up death tolls in Brazil — on babies and children.
But experts say the variant appears to be leading to higher death rates among pregnant women. Some women with Covid are giving birth to stillborn or premature babies already infected with the virus, said Dr. André Ricardo Ribas Freitas, an epidemiologist at São Leopoldo Mandic College in Campinas, who led a recent study on the impact of the variant.
“We can already affirm that the P.1 variant is much more severe in pregnant women,” said Dr. Ribas Freitas. “And, oftentimes, if the pregnant woman has the virus, the baby might not survive or they might both die.”
Lack of timely and adequate access to health care for children once they fall ill is likely a factor in the death toll, experts said. In the United States and Europe, experts said, early treatment has been key to the recovery of children infected with the virus. In Brazil, overstretched doctors have often been late to confirm infections in children, Dr. Marinho said.
“Children are not being tested,” she said. “They get sent away, and it’s only when these children return in a really bad state that Covid-19 is suspected.”
study published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal in January foundthat children in Brazil and four other countries in Latin America developed more severe forms of Covid-19 and more cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare and extreme immune response to the virus, compared with data from China, Europe and North America.
Even before the pandemic began, millions of Brazilians living in poor areas had limited access to basic health care. In recent months, the system has been overwhelmed as a crush of patients have flooded into critical care units, resulting in a chronic shortage of beds.