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Does cardiovascular infection affect children differently than adults?

Dennis W. Kim, MD
Pediatric Cardiology
Yes it can. Infants and small children may not be able to tell their caregivers exactly how they are feeling so the diagnosis of a cardiovascular infection may be delayed. Sometimes, if the child has additional symptoms because of a significant heart problem, an infection may be more difficult to appreciate initially. Some congenital (the child was born with it) cardiovascular malformations that may increase the risk of cardiovascular infections will affect children more than in adults. In fact, some of these may resolve by themselves during childhood without the need for surgery. For those children with significant congenital heart problems, a cardiac operation is usually performed prior to becoming an adult. Typically, a good repair of the child's heart condition will reduce the risk of a cardiovascular infection to that of the general population. However, some children who have undergone a heart operation will continue to be at increased risk of cardiovascular infections throughout life.
As in adults, treatment of bacterial cardiovascular infections in children requires long term intravenous (IV) antibiotics. This may be for 6 weeks or even longer. If intravenous antibiotics are used, a long-term indwelling catheter is placed into a vein that goes toward the heart. Because the veins of infancts and children are smaller than in adults, these may be more difficult to place and may result in more clotting of the blood vessels that they pass through than in adults.
The indications for using antibiotics for the prevention of endocarditis is similar for children as it is for adults. Children who are at risk for cardiovascular infections should not need to routinely take antibiotics more than other children for similar illnesses.

The childhood disease of rheumatic fever may affect the heart and make a child more susceptible to cardiovascular infection. Children who have birth defects of the heart may also be more likely to develop the condition. Treatment in children, as with adults, depends on the cause and severity of the infection.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.