Importance Identification of potential indirect outcomes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in the pediatric population may be essential for understanding the challenges of the current global public health crisis for children and adolescents.
Objective To investigate whether the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and subsequent effective public health measures in Australia were associated with an increase in admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) of children and adolescents with deliberate self-harm (DSH).
Design, Setting, and Participants This national, multicenter cohort study was conducted using the Australian data subset of the binational Australian and New Zealand Paediatric Intensive Care registry, a collaborative containing more than 200 000 medical records with continuous contributions from all 8 Australian specialist, university-affiliated pediatric ICUs, along with 1 combined neonatal-pediatric ICU and 14 general (adult) ICUs in Australia. The study period encompassed 6.5 years from January 1, 2015, to June 30, 2021. Patients aged 12 to 17 years were included. Data were analyzed from December 2021 through February 2022.
Exposures Any of the following admission diagnoses: ingestion of a drug, ingestion of a nondrug, hanging or strangulation, or self-injury.
Main Outcomes and Measures The primary outcome measure was the temporal trend for national incidence of DSH ICU admissions per 1 million children and adolescents aged 12 to 17 years in Australia.
Results A total of 813 children and adolescents aged 12 to 17 years admitted to ICUs with DSH were identified among 64 145 patients aged 0 to 17 years in the Australian subset of the registry during the study period. Median (IQR) age was 15.1 (14.3-15.8) years; there were 550 (67.7%) female patients, 261 (32.2%) male patients, and 2 (0.2%) patients with indeterminate sex. At the onset of the pandemic, monthly incidence of DSH ICU admissions per million children and adolescents increased from 7.2 admissions in March 2020 to a peak of 11.4 admissions by August 2020, constituting a significant break in the temporal trend (odds ratio of DSH ICU admissions on or after vs before March 2020, 4.84; 95% CI, 1.09 to 21.53; P = .04). This occurred while the rate of all-cause admissions to pediatric ICUs of children and adolescents of all ages (ie, ages 0-17 years) per 1 million children and adolescents decreased from a long-term monthly median (IQR) of 150.9 (138.1-159.8) admissions to 91.7 admissions in April 2020.
Conclusions and Relevance This cohort study found that the coronavirus pandemic in Australia was associated with a significant increase in admissions of children and adolescents to intensive care with DSH.